Massachusetts Senate climate bill blocked again, set to resurface next week
Massachusetts Senate climate bill blocked again, set to resurface next week

The climate bill is the latest to fight its way through the legislative quagmire. The package is intended to slow the expansion of natural gas production, make it easier to install chargers in many residential areas and prohibit third parties from selling electricity to residents. In particular, the state’s Department of Utilities would also have to examine whether requests to expand gas production are compatible with the state’s emissions reduction goals.

But after Senate leadership released the bill on Monday and scheduled a vote for three days later, it immediately faced opposition in the House. Senator Ryan Fattman, a Republican from Sutton, blocked debate on the bill on Thursday, using a procedural trick that effectively delayed the chamber for another day. Fattman argued that senators – and the public – were not given enough time to digest the bill or voice their concerns about it.

Fattman, one of four Republicans in the 40-member chamber, then used the same maneuver, known as “putting the bill on the table,” again on Friday, prompting Senate leaders to postpone debate on the bill until Tuesday – albeit with concessions.

Fattman agreed not to delay the bill again with what one senator called “delay motions.” He also promised not to try to delay the deadline for filing amendments to a highly anticipated housing bill that the Senate plans to release early next week and vote on Thursday.

The agreements – mentioned during a formal session with sparse attendance but then hatched outside the chamber – were an attempt to “move things forward as efficiently as possible,” said state Sen. Will Brownsberger, the third-highest Democrat in the chamber, who presided over Friday’s meeting.

A spokesman for Senate President Karen E. Spilka, who was not present at the State House for Friday’s meeting, had lamented the initial delay and said Thursday that it meant that “climate change will stay another day ahead of climate action.”

“There’s a lot going on at once,” Brownsberger said Friday, but downplayed the impact of the climate bill’s delay. “Every day counts, but not every change in the schedule is important. So this shift in the schedule is not going to bankrupt us in terms of the talks.”

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Fattman said his intention was to “buy a little more time” for what he called the “esoteric” bill.

“The idea of ​​natural gas being used as a last resort is problematic and could deter development,” he told reporters. “I obviously want housing to be created, and within reason. But I think this potentially has a chilling effect on that.”

With only 6.5 weeks left until the end of the official sessions of Parliament, a number of important pieces of legislation remain unfinished, including, most notably, a housing bill that the House of Representatives passed weeks ago and that lawmakers have been promising to implement for months.

The House is expected to release its own version of a climate bill — after which lawmakers will have to negotiate a final version — and legislative leaders are still negotiating behind closed doors on gun safety legislation. The House and Senate have also passed a slew of other, smaller bills that have yet to appear in either chamber.

In addition, lawmakers have yet to agree on a new annual state budget. Gov. Maura Healey introduced a bill Thursday that would ensure state government funding through the end of July, meaning the state will once again begin the fiscal year on July 1 without an annual budget. The last time the state submitted a budget on time, was in 2010.

All this points to a chaotic end to the session, marked by backroom horse-trading and the potential failure of large and small legislative proposals.

Two years ago, lawmakers capped off their formal legislation with a marathon 23-hour session that lasted into the early hours of August 1. And only months later did they pass one of the session’s most talked-about bills – albeit without a tax relief package that didn’t reach the governor’s desk until nearly a year later.

In 2021, several key bills were passed as late as 5 a.m. the day after the last session began — and just hours before lawmakers were sworn in for a new two-year term. Even on Beacon Hill, where late-night lawmaking can be the norm, some fear that backroom deals before dawn could become the new normal.

Fattman himself said the legislature could move faster, arguing that while he had delayed a vote on the climate bill, various versions of the bill had been in the chamber’s budget committee “for two months.”

“Let’s get going, shall we? It’s time to get up,” Fattman said, noting that Parliament had started the new year with one of its most unproductive sessions in decades. “Let’s try to figure out how to get things done faster.”

Matt Stout can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him @mattpstout.

By Aurora