Senate Democrats are now on board with a House plan to require the Healey administration to stand up an overflow site for shelter-eligible families stuck on a waitlist, but a lack of apparent Republican support may slow the advancement of a compromise.
Hours after negotiators announced they reached a deal without providing details, Democrats said the compromise closeout supplemental budget attaches some strings to a $250 million injection in the emergency assistance shelter system.
The bill calls for up to $50 million to be spent on at least one location to support people eligible for shelter, but unable to be placed due to a 7,500-family limit set by Gov. Maura Healey. The location would need to be online by Dec. 31, according to House Speaker Ron Mariano's office.
"We are proud of the agreement on the supplemental budget reached today with the Senate, which contains $250 million to support the Commonwealth's response to the influx of families seeking shelter, including a requirement for the Healey-Driscoll administration to identify an emergency overflow site for families stuck on the waitlist," Mariano said in a joint statement alongside House negotiator Rep. Aaron Michlewitz. "The establishment of a state-funded overflow shelter is central to the goal of ensuring that no family in Massachusetts spends a night out on the street. That provision, along with the funding specifically allocated for school district costs associated with additional student enrollments, and for migrant and refugee workforce programs, ensures that the Legislature is doing everything that it can to support the Commonwealth’s efforts to address this humanitarian crisis."
The compromise does not require the Healey administration to lift its cap on family shelter placements if an overflow is not operational within 30 days of the bill's signing, as the House had sought, according to Senate negotiator Michael Rodrigues.
The compromise bill also calls for at least $75 million of the $250 million to be spent on supporting school districts that have enrolled newly arriving migrants. It would order the Healey administration to report to lawmakers every two weeks about the shelter program's status, and provide at least 30 days' notice before changing how long benefits can be provided.
The conference committee report does not include Senate language aimed at allowing development of a professional soccer stadium in Everett, Rodrigues said. The House had sought such language last session and the Senate included it in its supplemental budget this month, but the branches do not have an agreement on that matter.
"We didn't want to have this issue hold up the rest of the bill, and there will be other opportunities," Rodrigues told the News Service.
Lawmakers on a conference committee tasked with negotiating a compromise -- which did not meet for two-plus weeks after its creation -- filed a report with the House clerk's office on Thursday afternoon.
Only the four Democrats on the panel signed the report's jacket, indicating that the two Republicans, Rep. Todd Smola of Warren and Sen. Patrick O'Connor of Weymouth, did not give their support.
Because Democrats did not pass the bill before formal sessions ended for the year on Nov. 15, they face a higher hurdle to advance their new plan. They must convince any Republican present not to derail it during informal sessions like the ones occurring Thursday afternoon.
The House GOP caucus declared Wednesday, on the eve of the deal, that they would "strongly oppose" efforts to approve the bill "in its entirety in an informal session, minus any meaningful policy reforms."
"The fact that the Speaker, Senate President and Governor have been unable to reach consensus on the migrant issue shows that this is too contentious an issue to take up in an informal session," House Minority Leader Brad Jones said Wednesday. "The House Republican Caucus believes this spending bill should receive a roll call vote in a full formal session, and not be passed in a sparsely attended informal session. The hard-working men and women who have been waiting months for their collectively bargained pay raises continue to show up for work, and the members of the House and Senate should be prepared to do the same and reconvene in a full formal session."
Rodrigues declined to detail strategies Democrats may take to try to get the bill passed during informal sessions that run until Jan. 3.
Asked if Democrats were prepared to suspend the legislative rule that prohibits formal sessions until next year, Rodrigues replied, "I think you're speculating. We'll take it one step at a time."