Conference glut could leave little time to review major bills

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STATE HOUSE — With five major bills potentially on tap to come before the Legislature this weekend, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said lawmakers should have sufficient time to review the final bills before they are asked to vote on them.

Five bills that Beacon Hill leaders have tapped as priorities before formal sessions end for the year on Sunday remain before six-member conference committees that are privately reconciling the House and Senate versions.

Lawmakers will not know the details of the lengthy and complex bills — which deal with diversifying the state’s energy mix, regulating the ride-for-hire industry, restricting the use of non-compete agreements, economic development and municipal government reforms — until the conference committees file their reports.

“My feeling is that all the bills we have talked about have been debated and talked about for so long a period of time, I think everyone really has a strong idea of what’s included and what’s excluded and the differences, so I’m not sure it would be required that they have a whole lot more time,” DeLeo told reporters Monday. “Having said that, at the very least, what we would do is hold caucuses — at least, well, the Democrats, I’m sure the Republicans would do the same — to try to highlight those areas that may have changed since the original debate.”

Under the Legislature’s joint rules, a conference report must be filed by 8 p.m. the day before the Legislature takes it up, and the report cannot be considered before 1 p.m. that day.

With many Massachusetts Democrats — including DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg — attending their party’s national convention in Philadelphia this week, the only formal sessions this week are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

Rosenberg was in Philadelphia Monday, and participated by phone in a weekly meeting with DeLeo and Baker. DeLeo plans to travel down Tuesday.

DeLeo said lawmakers try every session to avoid a “last-minute crunch on some major bills” but “both sides dig in very deeply until the end to try to see if the other one will, you know, give in on this point or that point.”

“This year what made it a little different as well was, I think, we were probably a little bit more divergent in the House and Senate bills, probably a little more different,” he said. “So there was probably a lot more to go through before we would come to a resolution of trying to conference the legislation.”

DeLeo said much of the weekend sessions will be devoted to conference committee reports, land transfers that require roll call votes, “just a couple more” overrides of Baker budget vetoes, and home rule petitions.

Asked if the House would take up Senate-approved bills requiring installation of ignition interlock devices in vehicles of all drunk driving offenders, banning the use of handheld electronic devices while driving, and raising the tobacco purchase age to 21, DeLeo said he was “doubtful that we’d get to something that would require the type of debate that we would have to have on those particular issue.”

— Written by Katie Lannan

Copyright State House News Service