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Massachusetts Senate moves to break from House, set up own committees to consider bills

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BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate has raised the stakes in a power struggle with the House, voting unanimously to begin pulling out a legislative process they say gives the House too much control over the fate of bills.

Wednesday's vote authorizes the Senate to draft a plan to end the Legislature's long-standing joint committee structure by allowing the Senate to establish separate committees. The plan would need final Senate approval.

The Legislature's 25 joint committees have a big say over which bills live or die on Beacon Hill, but House members outnumber Senate members on each committee.

Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg said after Wednesday's vote that senators need to be able to work on their bills without having them die in the House before ever reaching the Senate.

"When a senator has to say I'm sorry I can't work on the bill because I can't get it over to the Senate, it compromises our ability and our effectiveness to do the job," Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg has proposed a change that would let Senate members of a joint committee send bills that originated in the Senate back to the Senate to be debated and voted on. Under that proposed change, House members of joint committees would also have the same authority over bills that originated in the House.

Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, said he recommended the Senate move because he's been frustrated by the resistance to change from the House.

"It isn't worth fighting at all over this," he said. "Senate bills come to the Senate. End of story. Period. Stop."

House members currently have the ability to block Senate bills from being released from a joint committee.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo rejected the proposal, saying the joint committee structure has served the state well.

"We're looked upon in Massachusetts as one of the most productive states in terms of legislation," DeLeo said Tuesday. His office declined to comment on Wednesday's Senate vote.

Under the Senate proposal, the Senate would create separate committees that would parallel House committees.

Rosenberg has argued that since representatives of the 160-member House have a numerical advantage on each joint committee over members of the 40-person Senate, the House essentially controls the flow of bills.

He said the problem has gotten worse in recent years and only about a third of bills that originate in the Senate ever get back to the Senate for debate. He said while he preferred keeping the joint committee structure, the vast majority of states have separate committees.

In an op-ed he wrote in Tuesday's Boston Globe, DeLeo said Rosenberg's proposal was "ill-advised, disruptive, and would be detrimental to the public interest." Speaking to reporters later that day, DeLeo said the existing joint committee structure has served the state well.

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