The Massachusetts legislative process, although at times confusing, is crucial to understanding advocacy efforts and how you can be involved to help animals on the state level.
Below is a step-by-step guide to how bills are passed, or not, in Massachusetts during a two-year legislative session.
- A petition, accompanied by a bill, is proposed by a legislator, the governor, or presented by a legislator on behalf of a public citizen. Oftentimes, identical bills are filed in both branches, filed by a Senator in the Senate and a Representative in the House. If you have an idea for a bill, talk to your legislators (link to www.wheredoivotema.com) and us.
- The bill is assigned a docket number. The docket number will eventually become a bill number. You will likely see, for example, SD 1234 and HD 1234, at the beginning of the session (Senate Docket and House Docket). These will then become different bill numbers and will show up at H. 4321 and S. 4321, for example.
- The bill is referred to a committee based on its subject matter and will have a public hearing before that committee. Hearings can be held anytime between March in the first year of the session to early into the second year. All bills get a hearing.There are usually 17 members of the committee; 11 representatives and 6 senators. The hearings allow citizens, legislators, and lobbyists the opportunity to express their views on the bill. After the hearing (but can be months later), the committee members will decide if the bill will be reported with an: “ought to pass,” or “ought not to pass,” or if it will undergo changes, be sent to a “study.” Being sent to a study almost always means it doesn’t move further). Sometimes bills are assigned to another committee.
- A favorably reported bill be sent to another committee for further review. This is considered its first reading. Often the committees a bill is sent to after the initial hearing are the Committee on Ethics and Rules, the Committee on House Ways and Means, or the Committee on Senate Ways and Means.
- After a bill undergoes its second reading, it is available for debate, motions, and amendments. Once the debate has ended, if a bill is voted on favorably, it will be assigned to the Committee on Bills in the Third Reading. This committee determines the legality and constitutionality of the matter and ensures it does not duplicate or contradict information in an existing law.
- The bill is then released to the House or Senate for a third reading on the floor. During the third reading, the bill is again open to debate, motions, and amendments. When the debate has finished, there is a vote on passing the bill to be “engrossed.”
- If the bill is voted on favorably, it moves to the other branch for the same process (i.e. it started in the Senate now moves to the House and vice versa).
- After the bill undergoes the three readings and a vote for engrossment in both the House and the Senate, then it is sent to the Legislative Engrossing Division to be typed onto special parchment as is required by law.
- However, if the bill was amended by the second branch, the legislation will be returned to the first branch for a vote of concurrence. If concurrence is rejected, a conference committee made up of three members from each branch, representing both political parties, may be appointed to craft a compromise bill. This bill will be voted on, as a final vote, by both branches and the compromise bill may not be amended. The PAWS II bill and bills on trapping have been subject to conference committees to work out the differences between House and Senate versions.
- Voting to “enact” a bill in both the House and the Senate is the last step of passing a bill in the legislature. From there, the bill is sent to the governor.
- The governor can:
– Sign the bill into law
– Allow the unsigned bill to become law (if the bill is held for 10 days with no action while the legislature is in session, it will become law even without a signature)
– Veto it
– Send it back to the legislature with recommended changes. If the bill is held by the governor for 10 days, but the legislative yearly session has concluded, then it dies being referred to as a “pocket veto.”If the governor vetoes a bill, the veto can be overturned by a two-thirds majority vote by the legislature over the veto if the legislature is still in session.
- After the governor approves the bill, or there is a two-third majority vote by the legislature, the bill becomes a law. Laws become effective in 90 days. However, laws that are deemed an “emergency” can become effective immediately with a two-thirds majority vote to add an “emergency preamble” to the law or by declaration of the governor.
How you fit in:
- Legislators are able to propose bills on behalf of citizens! If you feel strongly about a topic, bring it up to a local legislator to find out what bills may currently cover the topic, or push to start a new bill.
- Legislative hearings are all open to the public! People are encouraged to attend meetings and observe the process at the State House. This may give you a better idea of what legislators you could reach out to for support on different topics. All are open to the public and are held specifically for the purpose of hearing your opinions on the bills in question. You can participate in public hearings in person or through submitting a letter expressing your views.
- And of course you can always become more involved and support your local advocacy groups! The MSPCA works hard to keep in contact with local legislators and to keep up to date with any relevant bills. We work with legislators to advise and educate them on animal related bills so they are prepared to vote in the most informed way possible. You can always visit our advocacy webpage to gain more information on current bills and our page with tips on how to pass a law.