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Legislative Process in Our State

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When you see the complexity of the Massachusetts Legislative process it is easy to see why most legislation takes 3 sessions or six years to go from idea to passed legislation. A Mass State legislative session lasts for two years. The current session began in Jan 2019 and ends July 31st 2020.

Our Senate is much more progressive than our House and frequently don’t agree. Both must compromise ultimately to get anything into its final bill form so it can be sent to the Governor.

Time line for a legislative session:

Early in the first year, hundreds of bills are introduced. Bills can be large or small, attempting to create sweeping legislation or very small bills which are specific to a particular municipality. Once given a number, the House and Senate Clerks assign the bills to an appropriate Joint Committee who must hold a hearing on the bill and issue a report. These Joint Committee hearings are open to the public who may attend and address the committee.

All the bills are heard by February of the second year and an executive session will recommend one of three things for each bill. It passes, goes to study, or fails. If put in study no further committee action is taken that session. If the bill passes it goes to three separate readings where it is debated and refined. If there is a favorable response to the bill it’s then engrossed and sent to the other chamber and the 3 reads are repeated, as well as engrossment. If bills are identical in both House and Senate a vote occurs in both chambers. If there are differences between the House and Senate bill on the same topic then both chambers must negotiate a joint version.


Once agreed and passed it goes to the Governor who can do several things:

  • He signs and it becomes law usually in 90 days.
  • He vetoes, and a 2/3rds vote is need by both chambers to overturn.
  • He returns the bill with recommendations for change
  • He can line item veto — if appropriations bill can decrease the amount of a line item or veto a section.

This legislative session ends July 31st. But the hashing out of things and response to what the Governor does goes on until the end of that year.

When you see the complexity of the Massachusetts Legislative process it is easy to see why most legislation takes 3 sessions or six years to go from idea to passed legislation. A Mass State legislative session lasts for two years. The current session began in Jan 2019 and ends July 31st 2020.

Posted by Marcia Hart

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