Work ramped up on Beacon Hill this week, as state lawmakers faced a deadline that should have clarified which bills are becoming priorities for the Massachusetts House and Senate this session. WGBH News State House reporter Mike Deehan discussed the bills in question with All Things Considered host Arun Rath. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Arun Rath: So we have this survival of the fittest or natural selection process that's going on. The state has until the end of July, six months or so, to finish work on thousands of bills. Do we have a sense of what's going to be getting attention this year?
Mike Deehan: A little bit. I think some of the big A-list bills that we talk about all the time, things like transportation taxes, things like the education law they passed last year, things like that are definitely on the radar. Everybody knows about it. But it's all the other smaller bills that we don't really know whether they're going to get a vote. Are they going to move forward or are they just going to die in the legislative scrap heap? That's kind of what we're dealing with now. And that's what this Joint Rule 10 day, as we call it, is really meant to do. It's supposed to force the committees to vote on all those bills that are before them — the big ones, the small ones, the in-between ones — and get them from that committee stage towards the full chambers, so they can get votes scheduled by the entire Senate and the entire House. And what we saw this week was that instead of these committees voting on a lot of these important bills, a lot of the hot topics were extended, and they basically bent their own rules to grant themselves more time to consider them at the committee level before they move forward. So this deadline is not the most meaningful thing at this point.
Rath: So they extended the clock for themselves. Which bills do they say they need more time with?
Deehan: A lot of them really are the more controversial types of issues, like the the Roe Act, which would allow abortions after 24 weeks for cases with fatal fetal anomalies. It would also do away with parental notification for minors seeking abortion. You've got to remember, this is a pretty moderate legislature that does not really want to dive into social policy like this all that much. The Safe Communities Act is another great example. That would codify the state as a "sanctuary state." It would bar local law enforcement from interacting with ICE, with federal immigration enforcement, and stop any local sheriffs, police departments, whatever, from using federal immigration status in any way, basically.
Rath: Did any committee with major pieces of legislation before it adhere to the rule and take a vote?
Deehan: The Transportation Committee was actually the all-star when it comes to this kind of thing. They actually did vote favorably on an $18 billion transportation bond bill, which sounds boring, but is going to fuel and fund a lot of different projects going forward over the next several years, including stuff that's going to go for the MBTA. They also gave the thumbs up to giving driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. That's, of course, one of these very controversial issues that Beacon Hill may not want to dig into right now. But those are some things that really are popping off.
Rath: So we hit what got through, some of the things that will get more time to be argued about. Any examples of any bills that were killed in committee?
Deehan: Yeah, quite a few. A lot of them are things that get filed every year that everyone knows aren't going to go anywhere, or they're examples of things that have only been filed this one year, and so they really need to mature a little bit. The legislature does not really pass anything that isn't an emergency until it's been filed two or three times. So it takes five, six years to get a bill passed most of the time. A few of Gov. [Charlie] Baker's priorities, like his bill that would restrict the release for child rapists still deemed dangerous after their sentences are over, the legislature didn't have any appetite for that.
Similarly, Lt. Gov. Polito had been championing a bill to create different punishments for what's called "revenge porn," and kind of set up what happens when minors trade nude photos of other minors. Right now, they can only be charged with child pornography, so this was an attempt to build something a little bit less for young people who may find themselves in a situation like that. Again, kind of controversial. The legislature does not like to deal with sex really at all, so these things got spiked right away. And actually, one thing — kind of a similar theme here — the House put an end to a bill that was going to ban the government from issuing nondisclosure agreements in cases of sexual harassment. That's something that's been very controversial and championed by Senator Diana DiZoglio, and it looks like the House put the kibosh on that as well.