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Massachusetts House advances $3.1B spending bill

Massachusetts House of Representatives.
File photo
/
State House News Service
Massachusetts House of Representatives.

In a few minutes, House Democrats on Monday accomplished what they could not during three previous sessions.

House Democrats showed up in sufficient numbers to establish a quorum and to prevent Republicans from ending sessions, as the GOP did on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, largely to protest the state's evolving approach to sheltering migrant families.

With a quorum present, the House, in a rare hand-counted 105-14 vote, sent to the Senate a $3.1 billion fiscal 2023 closeout budget.

After the vote, House Speaker Ron Mariano, who has served in the House for more than three decades, could not recall another instance when there was a quorum during an informal House session.

The bill includes critical funds to fulfill state employee raises and try to keep pace with elevated emergency shelter demand.

"Now it's over to the Senate. We'll see when the Senate takes it up, and what their gameplan is, and then we'll judge when it comes back," House Minority Leader Brad Jones said after the House vote. "This I think has highlighted the dysfunction on Beacon Hill, highlighted the shortcomings of a one-party monopoly on Beacon Hill."

The bill (H 4204) was drafted by a six-member conference committee. If the bill is surfaced in the Senate Monday it will face an up-or-down vote there as well. After conference committee reports are accepted in each branch, enactment votes are also needed in each branch in order to move any bill to the governor's desk. The House was in recess Monday afternoon, awaiting the bill's possible return.

If Senate Republicans wish to hold up the bill, that branch has a non-debatable "lay on the table" motion that is available to members and has been used in the past to slow bills down, usually until Democrats rule that such motions are dilatory and power past them.

Senate Republicans so far have not had a chance to formally weigh in on the conference committee bill, but they appear to have at least one maneuver at the ready.

All four members of the Senate's GOP caucus cosponsored an order seeking to clear the way for a formal session, which could feature debate and roll call votes, to consider the closeout supplemental budget deal.

Legislative rules call for informal sessions, where debate is not allowed, from mid-November through December in odd-numbered years.

Formal sessions for the year ended Nov. 15 and are not set to resume until Jan. 3, 2024 under legislative rules, but the proposed order would carve out an exception for the $3.1 billion spending bill.

House Republicans offered a similar order last week, and Democrats quickly shelved it by burying it in the Rules Committee.

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