What to watch at the end of the Massachusetts legislative session
The end of July is always a busy time in Beacon Hill, with the Legislature rushing to wrap up its work before summer recess at the end of the month. But this year seems even busier and thornier than usual. GBH News political reporter Adam Reilly joined morning edition host Paris Alston to provide insight into the most important storylines on Beacon Hill, from abortion access to tax breaks to who pushes political agendas. Here are the four big themes he keeps an eye on.
Legislation on access to abortion
When the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, the refrain among Massachusetts political leaders was that providers and people seeking abortions in Massachusetts would be relatively safe. After all, abortion was codified in state law when the legislature passed the ROE Act in 2020, overriding Governor Charlie Baker’s veto to allow abortions after 24 weeks in certain circumstances and lowering the age for abortion without parental consent from 18 to 16.
Now, the Massachusetts House and Senate have both “embraced a variety of proposals aimed at protecting providers, protecting patients and expanding access,” Reilly said. But under state law, abortions aren’t allowed until after 24 weeks in cases of “fatal” fetal abnormalities, so Massachusetts residents still have to travel out of state to have their abortions done. care when they learn of “serious” fetal abnormalities late in pregnancy. And the two legislative bodies are not in sync on a proposal to expand access that would cover those cases.
“It’s something defenders stand for, push really hard,” Reilly said. “And the Senate, oddly enough, is not ready to take that step.”
Reilly called it an “unexpected sticking point”. Some leaders say Baker would likely veto such legislation, despite it passing the State House with an unvetoed majority. There are also arguments that the legislature, two weeks from the end of its session, will not have time to override a veto.
“The timeline explanation, at least to me, doesn’t quite fit,” Reilly said. If the state Senate had the votes to pass such a bill in the coming days, he said, the legislature would have plenty of time.
“I think something is going on behind the scenes here,” he said. “I don’t know if there are any members of the Senate who are personally uncomfortable with this, which Senate Speaker Karen Spilka is trying to protect. Spilka seemed a little more cautious than his counterpart in the House, [Speaker] Ron Mariano, over the years.
Changes in tax cuts from surprising supporters
The legislator moving forward with tax reforms: One-time payments of $250 per person from a budget surplus and various changes to the tax code.
“They want to ease the burden on seniors, renters, parents and low-income people,” Reilly said, though he pointed out that House members had also suggested raising the tax threshold. on estates of $1 million to $2 million, meaning fewer people would be subject to estate tax.
“The Senate has yet to release details of its plan, but it also appears to be on board with estate tax reform,” Reilly said. “And that’s an area where a lot of people think the benefits will go mostly to the wealthier residents.”
Members of the Legislative Assembly also made “interesting omissions” in Baker’s tax proposals. They left out a capital gains tax change that would benefit the wealthy, but also refused to raise the minimum income level to pay state income tax. Currently, anyone earning more than $8,000 a year must pay state taxes. Baker had suggested raising that threshold to $12,400 for single filers and $24,800 for joint filers, estimating that would eliminate state income tax for 234,000 of Massachusetts’ lowest earners.
“We have this weird reversal of expectations,” Reilly said. “You have a business-friendly Republican governor who offered a form of tax relief for the poorest residents of Massachusetts. And the House and the Senate, generally progressive, disagree, which is striking.
He added a caveat: the session is not over and things could change over the next two weeks.
“Even though they said, ‘We have this broad agreement on what we want to do,’ the final details are still being ironed out,” he said. “A kind of narcissism of small differences can sometimes take hold in Beacon Hill. Even if there is broad agreement, crossing the finish line – if there are small disagreements on something and everyone is sticking to their guns – it can be difficult.
Let our titles come to you.
A shift in power dynamics
For years, Reilly said, the conventional wisdom has been that the Massachusetts House is the most conservative body, both culturally and fiscally, and that the Senate “is freer, more progressive.”
“They get really ambitious with big liberal reforms, and they kind of have to drag the House with them,” Reilly said.
Now, he says, that’s not always true.
“At least sometimes, including in this fight against abortion, the tables are turned,” he said. “The Chamber is ahead on this point. The House leads the way when it comes to giving undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses, the House currently has a moratorium on building prisons, which is more stringent than that of the Senate.
“You can’t tell who’s going to take the lead on what issue,” Reilly said. “And that makes it fascinating.”
MassGOP leadership as Democrats hope to clinch single-party control
Both houses are dominated by Democrats: the House has 126 Democrats to 27 Republicans, with one representative not registered in either party and six vacant seats. The state Senate has 37 Democrats and only three Republicans. In November, Reilly expects Attorney General Maura Healey to likely be elected governor, giving Democrats control of the executive branch.
But Reilly says the MassGOP may be missing an opportunity to point out where the State House is choosing not to go forward with some of Baker’s tax breaks.
“It’s interesting to me to imagine a different political landscape in Massachusetts in which the Republican Party might be able to take advantage of Governor Baker pushing for low-income tax reform and the House and the Senate don’t follow,” Reilly said. “But he’s not running for a third term, as you know. And people looking to succeed him as Republican candidates – that’s not something they really care about. I would say they are more interested in running to the right than showing what they could do for the middle. So I would say that’s a missed opportunity for the MassGOP right now.