House lawmakers made an unprecedented move on Wednesday to break the Legislature’s own rules and extend the formal session past this Friday’s deadline, giving lawmakers until January to act on a full agenda of “pressing matters” put on hold due to the coronavirus.
“An insidious virus that has disrupted every aspect of our lives, it does not abide deadlines and it will require our constant vigilance well past July 31st,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said in a statement just before introducing the order.
The order moves to suspend a rule that requires all formal business in the second year of a session “be concluded not later than the last day of July of that calendar year.”
The House voted unanimously, 159-0, to suspend the rule after rejecting two amendments that would have placed conditions on scheduling. The last time the 25-year-old rule was suspended was in 2005, but lawmakers said this is the first time it has been extended into an election season.
The Legislature customarily breaks for five months during election years, but DeLeo said amid the pandemic, “no one can predict what might happen over the next 5 weeks, much less the next 5 months.”
The order still needs to earn two-thirds approval in the state Senate, but Senate President Karen Spilka said she is “pleased that the House has agreed with us to extend the session to complete vital legislation and stand ready to act as required by the COVID-19 crisis.”
A full plate still sits in front of lawmakers barely two days before the session is slated to end: from health care to police reform to housing to finalizing a full-year budget, though Chicopee Democrat Rep. Joseph Wagner said the Legislature will still “endeavor to deal with as much as it can prior to the current deadline of July 31.”
“It’s hard to find the words to capture the changed world in which we live in — the challenges that each of us … have to deal with each and every day. Unprecedented might begin to describe it,” Wagner said.