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Massachusetts lawmakers have a long to-do list — and it's growing

The presiding officer's gavel is shown perched on the rostrum in the Mass. Senate Chamber.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
The presiding officer's gavel is shown perched on the rostrum in the Mass. Senate Chamber.

Lots of weighty matters still await action on Beacon Hill before work is scheduled to conclude July 31.

Last week, Massachusetts House lawmakers passed a bill to address vulnerabilities brought to light by the Steward Health Care crisis. The major hospital oversight proposal aims to create more equity in health care.

Chris Lisinksi, a reporter with the State House News Service explains the bill goes well beyond bankrupt Steward, which has no hospitals in western Massachusetts.

Chris Lisinksi, SHNS: First of all, all of the Steward-related reforms are forward-looking. They're not exactly changing anything at existing Steward facilities, but they're designed to prevent those conditions from erupting again. And that would apply anywhere in western Massachusetts as well as in the eastern part of the state.

But there's lots of other reforms to the health care industry more broadly. There's money in it for vulnerable community hospitals that will split some $35 million a year for the next two years in enhanced rates. It would bulk up the state's oversight of hospital expansions and closures. It would require tons of new data to be reported to the state to better monitor conditions and basically overhaul the way that state government and regulators think about health care costs and keeping those within reasonable limits.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: And this bill was of special interest to House Speaker Ron Mariano. Do we know if it resonates as deeply with Senate President Karen Spilka? And does that matter?

It does matter a ton! Obviously, no branch can pass something into law without the other branch's buy-in. The Senate president has been pretty coy about what she thinks on this. All she said is that she too wants to do something to prevent a repeat of the Steward crisis and has some interest in overhauling the Health Policy Commission.

But those are only a few pieces of this really wide-ranging bill, and we're just not sure how she feels about all of the other provisions packed into this. So, that'll be something to watch in the very, very short window of time we've got remaining.

Speaking of the Senate, state senators will take up their budget proposal this week. What kind of transparency do we expect in the process as they wade through all the amendments and then get to the meat of the spending proposal before they get to that vote?

Yeah, we certainly expect a little bit more transparency in the Senate compared with the House.

Senators will bundle together tons of amendments into single up or down votes, making clear this one vote will approve all of these amendments; one vote will reject all of these amendments. That's not the case in the House, where you actually have to comb through the text yourself to see if an amendment that it dispenses with is included or just stuffed quietly into the trash can.

With that being said, it's not exactly going to be a bastion of government transparency. There will be lots of private talks about which amendments make it into those yes and no bundles, rather than open floor debate on every single one of these — something like — 1,100 proposed changes.

And finally, briefly, in recent weeks, we've talked about ballot questions that could be appearing on the November ballot and how opposition groups have mounted challenges to all of them. Late last week, the group that wants to keep the MCAS test as a high school graduation requirement asked the state's highest court to change the language that would appear on the ballot. What's going on here?

Yeah, the opposition group asked the Supreme Judicial Court to change the title and official summaries of the ballot question, not to refer specifically to MCAS, but instead to refer to statewide comprehensive assessments more broadly.

We should also note that the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the union pushing for the ballot question, also asked the state's highest court to tweak the title and summaries, saying that it thinks it's misleading — but in a different way than opponents do.

Disclosure: Some NEPM employees are affiliated with the Massachusetts Teachers Association. We cover them like any other organization.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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