, Newburyport, MA

January 1, 2013

With eyes on Washington, Beacon Hill lawmakers busy on New Year's Eve

By Michael Norton

---- — BOSTON — With public attention focused on Washington and fiscal cliff talks over imminent spending cuts and tax increases, the Massachusetts Legislature remained in session on New Year’s Eve, with lawmakers cutting deals on bills and steering legislation to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk.

Both branches gaveled in holiday eve sessions at 11 a.m. yesterday and the sessions continued past 2:30 p.m.

By midday, lawmakers had sent to Patrick bills dealing with retirement benefits and retirement system finances, behavioral analysts, access to epinephrine in schools, the definition of intellectual disabilities, stranger-originated life insurance, flu immunizations for children and commuter shuttle parking facilities.

Most lawmakers opted against attending the end-of-year sessions, leaving the decision-making to Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Lobbyists, however, kept up a strong presence at the sessions, keenly aware of the push by legislative leaders to advance bills of local and statewide importance.

Recorded votes are not allowed during informal sessions, nor are debates. Bills are advanced on voice votes, often following private talks among lawmakers and stakeholders. Any member can block a bill from advancing, although most bills that surface for action are quickly approved.

Asked which bills and issues were in play during a break in yesterday’s session, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, spoke to the cryptic nature of informal sessions. “That’s a good question,” he said.

Tarr said lawmakers had been discussing dam safety and seawall legislation, labor rates paid to auto body repair workers and state board and commission appointments aimed at ensuring an odd number of members.

The House yesterday gave final approval to a bill aimed at protecting lakes and ponds from aquatic nuisances. Other bills on the move in the House would expand the authority of local tree wardens, affect insurance surcharges and require health plans for state employees that cover chemotherapy to also provide patients coverage for oral cancer medications.

With the 187th General Court on schedule to dissolve in the coming hours, bills shipped by the Legislature to Patrick’s desk in recent days faced a new option, the pocket veto. The pocket veto results when a governor opts against signing a bill within 10 days following the prorogation or the dissolution of the General Court. Normally, if a governor opts against signing a bill within the 10 days allotted for review, it becomes law without his signature.

The 188th General Court begins tomorrow morning when returning members of the Legislature will join 16 new House members and three new senators to be sworn in.

State House News Service writer Matt Murphy contributed to this report.