Deadline day arrives for policing accountability bill

The day that Beacon Hill leaders targeted for agreement on a policing accountability bill has arrived, and the proposal remains the subject of private talks among six lawmakers assigned to a conference committee.

Supporters of the bills have attached urgency to acting soon, calling for lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker to seize on the widespread public outrage over police violence by taking actions to ban certain policing tactics and make sure officers in Massachusetts are held accountable for misconduct.

Police are rallying behind legislators who voted against the measure, vowing to support them in election battles this year. In the House, the opposition bloc includes all 31 House Republicans and 35 Democrats.

If an agreement is reached, it would be filed with the Senate clerk’s office and nothing had been filed as of 9:30 a.m.

The House and Senate on Thursday reached final agreement on an order permitting formal sessions to continue for the rest of 2020, so legislators have more time to try to iron out differences on policing bills, and many others.

Senate President Karen Spilka said Wednesday afternoon she still hopes for a policing bill accord by Friday, asserting that the extension “should not affect the urgency of enacting” a policing bill.

“I am confident that our colleagues in the House share our commitment to acting on this matter by the end of the week,” she said.

After Wednesday night’s session, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues said, “Hopefully we’ll get some conference committees done in the next couple of days.”

Conference committees this week have also been negotiating capital funding bills authorizing investments in transportation and information technology. Those agreements would be filed with the House clerk’s office and nothing had been filed as of 9:35 a.m.

The policing bill negotiators were named on Monday. On the Senate side, it’s Democrats Sen. William Brownsberger of Belmont and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain, and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican. The House appointed Rep. Claire Cronin, an Easton Democrat and co-chair of the Judiciary Committee; Springfield Democrat Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, and Rep. Timothy Whelan, a Brewster Republican.

On Thursday night, the House and Senate named six members to negotiate a final economic development bill, which will include a housing production measure and perhaps legalization of sports betting. Sens. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow and Rep. Aaron Michlewitz of Boston will serve as lead negotiators and be joined by Sens. Michael Rodrigues of Westport and Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth and Reps. Ann-Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester and Donald Wong of Saugus.

Health care reform bills approved in each branch appear headed for conference committee, perhaps as soon as Friday. And bills addressing climate change and emissions reductions could also get to conference soon. The House plans to resume deliberations on its climate bill on Friday.

Conference committees operate entirely in private and exercise significant power, in part because their agreements are not subject to amendment and usually are approved quickly by both branches.

With both branches continuing a heavy stretch of formal sessions Friday, lawmakers are awaiting for word from the Corner Office on a $16.5 billion interim budget to keep state government functioning in the absence of an annual budget. The interim budget covers appropriations through October.

The current interim budget includes enough money to cover government operations through Friday. Baker had requested a one-month budget to cover August. A spokesman for the governor confirmed Friday morning that Baker has not yet acted on the three-month budget bill.

(Copyright (c) 2020 State House News Service.