Transgender bill, Baker's charter expansion proposal among bills given more time for review


BOSTON >> As deadlines go, the biennial cutoff point on Wednesday for committees to report on legislation was a fairly soft one.

Scores of bills, many of which have been pending before committees for 14 months, were on the move in the Legislature as a result of Wednesday's bill reporting deadline, but lawmakers placed many others into extension orders to work around the deadline and buy themselves more time.

The reporting deadline — known around Beacon Hill as Joint Rule 10 Day — was one of the flash points in the battle over rules between the two branches at the start of the session. The Senate hoped to push the deadline earlier in the year. The House resisted and no joint rules changes have been made.

The House and Senate on Wednesday adopted orders extending the reporting deadline for bills and held their sessions open through the afternoon expecting more extension requests.

"We've done some extensions, the Senate's done some extensions, so we've extended the session," Rep. Paul Donato said during a recess in the House session.

Legislative leaders generally set priorities as far as which bills emerge for debate and attention. For lawmakers behind the thousands of bills in play, getting a favorable committee report on Joint Rule 10 Day is the best outcome, and study orders or adverse reports often mean a bill is being mothballed.

"It seems we may be getting close to extension mania," Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said Wednesday in response to an order seeking an extension to June 30 for about 50 bills in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. "Very soon we will be in the legislative red zone, in which we will have very little time to consider the matters that are being extended."

Several high-profile bills are among those included in the almost two dozen extension orders adopted by the branches Wednesday.

The bill (S 735/ H 1577) that would provide anti-discrimination protections to transgender people using public accommodations, and would allow them to use public bathrooms and restrooms associated with their gender identity rather than their anatomical sex, will remain in the Judiciary Committee, but the committee must take action on it by May 2.

Gov. Charlie Baker's bill (H 3804) that would allow the addition of up to 12 new charter schools or expansions annually above existing caps in low-performing districts will remain in the Joint Committee on Education, but must be dealt with by June 3.

And the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies will have until June 1 to take action on Baker's $918 million, five-year economic development plan (H 3983).

Lawmakers have filed several thousand bills for consideration in the 2015-2016 session. In 2015, the Legislature and governor agreed to 171 new laws and so far in 2016 Baker has put his signature on 52 laws. Most of the new laws are local in nature or affect the sick leave benefits of public workers, but the laws also include the new omnibus opioid addiction statute and the annual state budget, which is always a pin cushion for myriad policy directives.


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