BOSTON — Massachusetts lawmakers passed a flurry of bills late Friday night and early Saturday morning, but failed to reach agreement on the police reform bill and several other key pieces of legislation.
Lawmakers passed an order Wednesday allowing them to continue to work on bills past the traditional, end-of-July deadline. Lawmakers now have until the end of the legislative session in January to send bills to Gov. Charlie Baker, but the looming November election added a sense of urgency to their work.
The House and Senate failed to reach a deal resolving each chamber's version of the police reform bill, which would create a licensing system for police officers and add other measures to increase law enforcement accountability in Massachusetts. The bill would set limits on the use of force, like chokeholds and tear gas, and curb the use of qualified immunity, a controversial legal principle that can shield police officers from civil lawsuits in cases of misconduct.
"We are committed to reaching resolution, and the conferees will take the time to get it right," House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a statement early Saturday morning.
The House and Senate completed work on several pieces of legislation, which now head to Baker for final approval, including:
- Approved $1.8 billion in borrowing for information technology projects. The plan includes $50 million to help schools expand remote learning during the coronavirus crisis.
- The House passed a bill prohibiting discrimination based on natural hairstyles. If the bill gets final approval, it would prohibit schools from creating rules that "impair or prohibit" such hairstyles. The bill stems from a Malden charter's school's 2017 change to its hair and makeup policy, which critics said subjected students of color to unfair treatment.
What Still Needs To Be Done
In addition to the police reform bill, several closely-watched pieces of legislation are still being worked out in committee:
- Most notably, lawmakers still need to finalize the state's annual budget. Baker said Friday he would sign a temporary, three-month spending blueprint while lawmakers finish work on the final budget.
- The House and Senate have both passed climate change bills that set a "road map" for having the state reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But the two chambers need to align the House bill passed Friday with the more ambitious Senate bill passed earlier this year.
- A $450 million jobs bill that includes Baker's proposal to lower the threshold for approval of housing projects at the local level to a simple majority from a super majority.
- Lawmakers are still trying to streamline a series of healthcare related bills. Central to any final version would be rules requiring insurers to cover telehealth visits.
- As of Saturday morning, a committee had failed to reconcile a transportation borrowing proposal that would authorize billions in spending on transportation projects across the state.
- The Senate has not yet passed a bill legalizing sports betting in Massachusetts. The House, however, did pass a version of the bill.