At the beginning of every legislative session, the House and Senate vote on their own chamber’s rules and what are called “Joint Rules.”
In Massachusetts, the initial consideration of bills takes place before committees composed of both Senate and House members, thus called “joint committees.” There are joint committees on Housing, Transportation, Education and so on, each with a House chair and Senate chair. I’m the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health.
This year, we also had to tackle emergency rules which we put into place early in the pandemic and which allow for things like remote participation in legislative sessions.
The Rules can seem arcane, but they set the stage, so to speak, for the ways in which bills and other core business happen. They set parameters for my action as a State Senator and they help determine how constituents like you engage with the Legislature.
Reading the rules is like being a historian, or better, a paleontologist. When they print the rules, the clerks include the dates the rule was first promulgated and each time it was altered. Some of them go back to the 1820s. Others are brand new and reflect contemporary concerns.
On February 11, the Senate met to debate and vote on the three rules packages for the 2021-2022 legislative session, which is also called the 192nd session.
Each set of rules is linked, below.
Here is a link to the Senate’s rules.
Here is a link to the Joint rules.
And, here is a link to the emergency rules.
As a new Senator last session, I had to figure out how to work with the rules and use them to advance our district’s priorities. Coming back for a second term, my team and I wanted to help make our rules much stronger with regard to transparency, access, and equity.
Here are just a few changes that we voted into being last week which I strongly support:
The Senate Rules now include three new requirements to address the issues of racism and equity:
- First “there shall be within the Senate Office of Human Resources an Officer of Diversity and Inclusion who shall promote policies to direct and guide offices to recruit, hire, train, develop, advance, promote and retain a diverse workforce, consistent with Senate Rules, regulation and law. The Senate Office of Human Resources shall provide or otherwise make available implicit bias training to all members, officers and staff and such training shall be mandatory.”
- Members, officers, and staff shall receive anti-harassment and bystander intervention training within 90 days of the opening of the biennial session.
- And there’s now a directive that Committees shall seek diversity among the people who testify at hearings. We also added a provision calling for diversity among suppliers of goods and services to the Senate.
We cannot truly advance racial justice and equity statewide until the Legislature itself is grounded in the principles and practice of racial equity. The Joint Rules now increase transparency and access to the information you need and deserve.
- All committee votes will be made public.
- All testimony in committees will be made public.
These transparency reforms are a long-time in coming. My team and I pushed hard for all committee votes and testimony to be public as—without this reform—the public has no way to know how or why a bill moved favorably out of committee or didn’t make it out at all. These changes were made to our proposed Joint Rules, which will have to be agreed to by the House as well to go into effect.
There is more that the Legislature can and must do to ensure equity, access, and transparency and you can count on our team to continue our advocacy.
The House must now take up its rules work in order for Committee work to begin.