2021 Rules Amendment #2: Adequate time to review bills

What does the amendment do?

  • It requires the House to give all members and the public at least 72 hours to read and fully consider a bill before it can be voted on.
    • This requirement can be waived by 2/3rds of all members voting yes. That vote must be recorded.
  • Reps must be given 24 hours to file amendments before they are voted on.
    • In case of emergency, this requirement can be suspended by a vote with at least a 2/3rds majority.

You can read the full language of our amendment here.

Why does it matter?

The text of a bill as originally filed at the beginning of a session is almost never what reaches the floor, and for good reason: Committees take testimony from the public, and suggest changes to the text as originally filed. That’s how the system is supposed to work.

But the changes a committee makes can be large and far-reaching, and Reps need enough time to read the new version of the bill and consider if they want to offer amendments to debate on the floor.

What are the arguments against this?

Over 12 Reps have already signed up to support this amendment, but we are hearing some arguments against it from various Reps.  Below you’ll find the most common arguments Reps have made against this amendment and ways to respond:

1. “This would slow down the process too much and gum up the works”

  • Bills sit in committee for MONTHS after having a hearing with no public action until suddenly a new bill draft is released and rushed to the floor. Asking for committees to “finish their homework” 2-3 days earlier than they are used to wouldn’t put an undue burden on those committees but would give other Reps and more importantly the public a chance to consider the bill.
  • In case of emergency or end of session crunch, 2/3rds of all members can simply vote to move forward with the bill faster. This will ensure the rule never causes important progressive legislation to die, a roll call vote to suspend this rule can be done in only a few minutes.
  • The current rules already require 24 hours for bills coming from House Ways & Means, this would simply give us adequate time to review a bill coming from any committee and extend that from 24 hours to 72 hours.

2. “Bills that we are taking up now were filed in January 2019, that’s plenty of time to read them.”

  • The text of bills can change greatly in committee, and the new text isn’t public until the committee releases it. In 2018, the Ways & Means committee released an increase in the minimum wage law with an added provision that would cut retail worker holiday overtime pay. The public had less than 24 hours between when the bill was released late one night and the bill was passed by the legislature the next day.
  • There are over 7000 bills filled every session, even if a legislator worked 24/7 they could not keep up with all those bills in the 29 different joint committees.

3. “The requirement to allow Reps 24 hours to offer amendments would prevent us from taking fast action in an emergency.”

  • That’s not true, that rule can be suspended with a vote of members to take action faster.

4. “This isn’t necessary, Reps can talk to the chair of a committee to give their feedback on a bill and learn what the committee is thinking.”

  • Some chairs are open about where they stand on particular policies, but that’s not the case with all committees. Some lawmakers have complained they cannot get information out of committee chairs on issues they care about.
  • And this doesn’t help the public! For our representative democracy to function, the public needs a chance to consider bills before they become a law. They need a chance to make their voices heard.

5. “This is only something Republicans care about because it would help them filibuster Democratic priorities.”

  • This isn’t a partisan issue. Voters across the state care about this issue regardless of party. When this amendment was offered in January 2019, many progressive lawmakers voted for it because they saw value in it.

6. “This doesn’t matter because the rules can just be waived.”

  • This rule cannot be suspended, but we do offer a way for 2/3rds of all Reps to vote on the record to move faster in the case of emergencies.

7. “I’ll wait until the draft rules are out”

  • You don’t need to wait because our proposal takes the current rules as the starting point, and that is the same as what the temporary rules committee will do at the beginning of next year.
  • The draft rules will only be public a few days before the vote, and it’s likely to be in the midst of other important deadlines for you like the co-sponsorship deadline. Waiting will ensure there isn’t enough time to build support in the chamber to pass this change.

8. “You’ve got to trust me this stuff is complicated and you know I’m on your side.”

  • Asking for you to support these amendments doesn’t at all imply that we mistrust you! We want to be up front about what we expect to see changed, and unless you have a good argument why you oppose this change, we’d like to see you commit to supporting this change!

See who has committed to this at www.ActOnMass.org/the-campaign