The beginning of August, usually a slow time of year on Beacon Hill after lawmakers recess for the month, is proving to be anything but in 2020. After doing away with their formal break, lawmakers will stay at work through the fall to wrestle with key legislation.
Possibly the most urgent priority is for a six-member conference committee to draw up a compromise between the House and Senate’s different bills to reform how police are licenced and held accountable. Finishing the police bill before August 1 was originally a stipulation of extending the session, but no compromise was struck by the time the Legislature went into overtime last week.
Pastors from the New England Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church wrote a letter to the conference committee urging the House and Senate to settle on a final bill that includes police decertification, limits on use of force, limits on police protections from civil lawsuits, a facial recognition ban and commissions to study civil service reforms and structural racism.
“We also recognize that the respective bills miss key opportunities to address decades long policing practices that have caused harm to people in communities of color, many of whom are our congregants,” the 15 pastors wrote in the letter.
House and Senate conferees likely agree on the broad strokes of the bill, but are hung up on legal protections, with the Senate’s bill going further to limit qualified immunity than the House’s Beacon HIll Democrats have been hearing from police groups and officers from their own districts before and after the chambers’ votes, setting up an additional level of scrutiny for the eventual compromise.
Another House/Senate conference is settling the details of an economic development jobs package that could potentially legalize sports betting in the Commonwealth. The Senate, however, didn’t think it was time to authorize casinos, racetracks and online apps to take wagers on sports, leaving the six members to hammer out a deal
Improvements to the health care system may seem like an easy issue for lawmakers to settle on in a pandemic, but the chambers’ have taken radically different paths to get there that threaten any eventual compromise. Lead figures on the House and Senate sides seem not to be able to stand each other, with House negotiators publicly criticizing their Senate counterparts during floor speeches before passing their own bill to regulate telehealth, expand the practice of some nurses and raise rates for community hospitals.
The Senate’s own package of health reforms would focus on mental health and prescription drug prices, leaving little overlap for negotiators to work with.
The additional time bought by the extended session could lead to more protracted negotiations as both branches dig in their heels.