In the final days of it's 2020 formal session, the Massachusetts Legislature appears split on two of the session's most pressing issues: police reform and transportation financing during the pandemic.
With the passage of the Senate's police reform, training and criminal justice overhaul in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the upper chamber sent to the House an ambitious package that goes well beyond the immediate issue of police oversight.
House leaders say they're eager to put the Senate's bill through its paces with a full, if virtual, public hearing TKday on the bill after criticism from some senators that the Senate rushed the legislation.
"Despite a changed timetable, House leadership remains committed to working with the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and House colleagues to take decisive action through omnibus legislation," Speaker Robert DeLeo wrote in a statement Monday, alongside his top budget Chairman Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Claire Cronin and Chair of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus Rep. Carlos González.
At the hearing, House members will likely hear from police unions and other organizations that oppose provisions the Senate included limiting protections police have against civil lawsuits. Moderate Democratic senators and some progressives allied with organized labor fought unsuccessfully to leave limits on police qualified immunity out of the bill, indicating that the more moderate House may hold the same position and be less inclined to do away with police protections.
It was the Senate, not the House, that made the moderate move to put the brakes on plans to raise taxes on gas and fees on hailed rides to contribute to transportation projects. Senate leaders plan to pass a $16.9 billion dollar transportation borrowing package Thursday that does not include the language passed by the House in March that would hike the gas tax by five cents and add a dollar to the fee paid on most Uber and Lyf rides.
The Senate never intended to completely follow the House's lead on taxes, having established its own task force well over a year ago to analyse the state's tax code and write up proposals for reforms that may or may not have resulted in higher taxes being dedicated to the MBTA and other transportation initiatives. According to Senate President Karen Spilka's office, that task force, lead by Pittsfield Sen. Adam Hinds, is still working on a plan, one that will now need to account for the toll the pandemic has taken on the state's economy. With only two weeks of formal lawmaking left in 2020, the Senate tax plan, like so many other policy issues frozen by the pandemic, will have to be thawed out in the new year.