By Eva Murphy, Director of Legislation
Public hearings are a regular feature of the legislative process in Massachusetts.
Every bill proposed is scheduled, usually at the beginning of the two-year session (2013-2014) of the state legislature (in Massachusetts formally named “the Great and General Court”), for a public hearing before the legislative committee to which it is assigned.
For example one of “our bills”—H2542 An Act relative to taxation—was on the long list of 45 bills (28 House bills and 17 Senate bills) scheduled for last Tuesday’s hearing before the Joint Committee on Revenue (https://malegislature.gov/Committees/Joint/J26), September 10th beginning at 10:30 a.m.
Most often the hearings are before a Joint Committee, i.e. a committee composed of House members and Senate members. For example the Revenue Committee has 5 Senators and 10 Representatives.
There are several rooms in the State House specifically designed for hearings: a long crescent-shaped desk for the array of representatives and senators on the Committee (usually 15-20 persons), rows of benches facing the Committee for any who wish to attend the hearing, and a central table in between, with microphones for the individuals who take their turn to speak for or against a particular bill.
When a high-profile piece of legislation is on the agenda, the hearing room may be “standing room only,” and the session may extend for long hours so that all may “have their say.” The Gardner Auditorium is the largest room in the State House for public hearings and has auditorium chairs, some chair-less stadium-like rows, and even a balcony.
When Anne Fox and I arrived, we signed a form indicating our names, affiliation (MCFL), and the bill—H2542–about which we wished speak. We were given a two-sided page containing a numbered list of the 45 bills, with legislator/sponsor name and bill title for each piece of legislation. The sponsor for H2542 is Rep. Geoff Diehl, and the title is a simple one: “An Act relative to taxation.”
Fortunately this bill has a relatively low number, which put it fifth on the agenda because the Committee had arranged the bills in numerical order. Each Committee conducts its hearing according to its own preferences. Sometimes no list is available, and one simply waits for the announcement of each bill number. Sometimes a list is presented in subject arrangement, with bills clustered on a similar issue so that the testimonies will be also clustered.
When our turn came, Anne and I moved to the central table with microphones and proceeded to use our six minutes (three per person) to say why H2542 should be approved for further consideration, and therefore “reported favorably out of committee.” (If a bill is not reported favorably, it dies at the end of the legislative session.) Anne spoke of the moral dilemma faced by pro-life citizens, and how this bill would remedy that dilemma and offer positive assistance to frightened mothers of newborns. I reminded the Committee members in attendance of the beneficial program that is the Baby Safe Havens program already “on the books” (at Mass. General Laws chapter 119, section 39-1/2 https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXVII/Chapter119/Section391~2). It needs regular appropriations to publicize this program and to maintain the signs directing one to a police station, hospital, or manned fire station, where a mother can take her newborn child to be placed in foster care or to be adopted. The taxation feature of the bill would allow Massachusetts taxpayers to channel some of their tax monies to pay for the continuance of the Baby Safe Havens program, instead of knowing that some of the monies would go to paying for other persons’ abortions.
Sometimes we attend a hearing in order to oppose a bill, and that will be the case in the next few months, when the Compassionate Aid in Dying bill (H1998) will be scheduled. A version of this bill was the substance of our Question 2 campaign last year. Since our campaign was successful, the proponents of the measure have re-introduced it into the legislative process (and changed the title and some of the language) in order to try again. Please watch for MCFL news on this bill and consider whether you might help us to speak against it when it comes up for a legislative hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Health.