Democratic Senators led the way Thursday for the passage of an overhaul to state and local zoning and land-use rules for cities and towns.

Municipalities in Massachusetts have to answer to multitudinous rules and bureaucracy at the state and local levels when it comes to where they can allow certain types of buildings constructed. And sometimes they use those rules to deny certain kinds of buildings they don't want.

Senate leaders want to clean up those systems so that more affordable housing can get built. The idea is to give cities and towns ways to plan ahead and cooperate with neighbors.

"Today we will be debating a piece of legislation that will literally define the shape and character of the futures of many of our communities that make up our great Commonwealth," said Sen. Dan Wolf (D-Harwich), a backer of the bill.

Sen. Jaime Eldridge endorsed portions of the bill designed to spur development of affordable housing and multifamily units, allowing more lower-income families to relocate to towns with superior schools.

"Some of the provisions put forward increase the opportunities for those from working class families, from those that are less well off to benefit from the great education in many of the communities in our Commonwealth," Eldridge said.

But Republicans in the Senate argue the bill just isn't ready for prime time. They tried to get it sent back to committee to clear up some objections local officials brought up about its complexity.

"The biggest concern right now that many people have is whether or not this is simply a case of 'land-use lasagne,' where we layer on one piece after the other piece, after the other piece, after the other piece, and we send forth from Beacon Hill something no one understands, and everyone is trying to sort out and trying to implement," said Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester.

The bill passed the chamber 23 votes to 15. Tarr said the bill needs work if it's going to have any hope of being more than a symbolic gesture, destined to die—or more likely be ignored—by the House in the final few weeks of the legislative session.