Jul 26, 2022 - Politics

The issues to watch as Mass legislation session ends

Illustration of the Massachusetts State House with lines radiating from it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

As is tradition, Massachusetts lawmakers are waiting until the last minute to finish work on several major pieces of legislation before their formal sessions end for the year on July 31.

  • On the agenda are legalizing sports betting and increasing access to mental health care.

Why it matters: Since Democrats wield a legislative supermajority, the compromises worked out this week will almost certainly become law.

What's happening: Six-member committees are working in secret to reconcile House and Senate priorities to produce final bills that will be passed to Gov. Charlie Baker.

  • The next few days will be the culmination of nearly two years of legislative wrangling, lobbying and activism to stir the often-lethargic lawmakers into action.

What we're watching: Lawmakers have an opportunity to overhaul how the state deals with mental illness and provides behavioral care, but the chambers have yet to reach a compromise.

  • The Senate's version of a mental health access bill, passed in November, would require providers and insurers to treat mental health conditions as they would physical ailments, calls for an annual mental health checkup and would expand mental health care in hospital emergency departments.
  • The House's version, passed in June, followed the Senate's lead for the most part.
  • Leaders on both sides say they expect a final bill to surface soon.

On sports betting, the chambers are much further apart.

  • The House wants gamblers to be able to wager on collegiate sports. The Senate wants only professional sports involved.
  • House Speaker Ron Mariano told reporters last week that excluding college games could decrease expected tax revenue by over 40%.
  • The House and Senate have shown little urgency coming up with sports betting rules since the Supreme Court legalized the practice in 2018. If negotiations fail at the deadline, deliberations may continue into 2023.

How it works: The major factor that leads to things either getting done or stalling on Beacon Hill is the friction between the left-leaning Senate and the more centrist House, both controlled by Democrats.

  • Negotiations that could have taken place months ago get resolved in the final few days, or even hours, because the deadline is often the only way to get the chambers to finalize a deal.
  • Voters have shown a strong preference for sending incumbent lawmakers back to the capitol term after term, meaning there is little political downside to this July rush.

The bottom line: More significant law will be written, sometimes hastily, in the next 100 hours than in the previous 18 months.

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