Today (2/09/23), the Massachusetts State Senate passed a comprehensive rules package updating the Senate and joint rules to incorporate the best practices learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. This package reflects the societal shift toward hybrid operations while building on the Senate’s commitment to transparency, inclusivity, and equity.
To maintain accessibility to state government, the Senate voted to include language in both the Senate and joint rules codifying the use of hybrid hearings by joint and Senate committees. This change will allow increased public participation and ensure that those who cannot be present in the State House can still participate in the legislative process.
Keeping in line with the emergency remote voting procedures adopted during the pandemic, the Senate also voted to continue the option of remote participation, which will allow members to take part in Senate sessions even when they have extenuating circumstances. These changes build on the best practices that were developed during the pandemic, and they also promote greater inclusivity.
“I am proud of the Senate for its commitment to increased transparency, inclusivity, and equity as reflected in this rules package,” stated Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “We have learned the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this rules package ensures that operations in the Senate continue to reflect the reality of work and civic engagement in the digital age. I’d like to thank Senator Lovely for her leadership and all of my Senate colleagues for their contributions.”
“The rules package released today takes the lessons learned during this unprecedented time and incorporates them into the Senate’s practices and procedures,” said State Senator Joan B. Lovely (D-Salem), Chair of the Temporary Senate Committee on Rules. “By continuing remote participation options for hearings, publishing committee votes, and allowing public access to testimony, we can create better pathways for people across our Commonwealth to access and participate in state government. I would like to thank Senate President Spilka for her leadership, my fellow committee members, and all my Senate colleagues for putting forth a rules package that is reflective of the Senate’s shared goals to meet the needs of our constituents."
The Senate’s rules package also includes robust transparency and diversity measures related to committee proceedings. Under the Senate’s joint rules package, joint committee votes will be required to be posted on the Legislature’s website, as is currently the practice with Senate committee votes. In addition, joint committees will be required to make testimony publicly available upon request, while allowing for the redaction of sensitive information. In addition, committees soliciting expert testimony will be required to make every effort to ensure that such testimony comes from a diverse group of individuals.
The Senate rules adopted today are now in effect for the remainder of the 193rd legislative session. The joint rules passed by the Senate will be reconciled with a proposal by the House of Representatives.