Rep Roy Shares His Testimony on Beacon Hill Divisions
The House and Senate, of late, have been having some trouble sharing Beacon Hill. Senate co-chair Sen. Michael Barrett announced Monday that the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy's House and Senate members would convene separately for "parallel hearings" on bills concerning offshore wind, clean energy, and energy storage. The split was triggered earlier Monday when House co-chair Rep. Jeffrey Roy announced a committee hearing without the consent of Barrett and other Senate members, Barrett said. Roy sees the matter very differently and shared his testimony that kicked off the House hearing, below:
Before we begin today's hearing, I wanted to take this opportunity to provide some context as to how we got to today with a Joint Committee on TUE hearing with only House members present . As you are aware, the joint committees were established in February 2023. Only after the establishment of joint committees can the real work of the Legislature begin. Joint committees are obligated to conduct public hearings on each matter referred to them. It is at these public hearings where ideas are openly vetted and where each committee receives the testimony that will help guide its consideration of important matters of public concern.
Those lofty objectives must be balanced against some hard, logistical realities: joint committees are referred hundreds of bills which must be heard, analyzed, and acted upon well-before the conclusion of the Legislature’s two-year session; all while committees compete for physical and digital space against the various demands on the State House’s resources.
With that in mind, I sought to establish a hearing schedule early, just as most other committee seems to have been able to accomplish. On March 14, 2023, my office contacted Chair Barrett's office to begin the process of scheduling hearings for the session. It took several follow-up emails before we finally heard from the Senator’s office on March 30, 2023. It was at the time that we learned that he would not agree to set a hearing schedule until we had come to an agreement on internal committee rules. These rules cover benign issues, like establishing time limits for people testifying before the committee, to significant issues dealing with how the committee decides whether to advance a bill for further consideration.
I informed the Senator then that any disagreement we have on some of the more significant committee rules should not get in the way of scheduling and conducting hearings, which are governed by uncontroversial rules that are not in dispute.
We made several more unsuccessful attempts during the month of April. With no progress, on May 8, 2023, I sent an email to Chair Barrett reminding him of the joint rule reporting deadline and the hundreds of bills we had before us to consider. I reminded him of our constitutional obligation to provide the first reading of the bills and informed him that I had reserved conference rooms to accommodate the hearings so that we could get started right away. He refused to budge from his position. When we could not come to an agreement I sent another email to him on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 as follows:
At a time when bold action is needed to stem the effects of climate change, the inability to conduct hearings is disappointing and disconcerting. There are many issues that need to be addressed in the bills before our committee and I am anxious to get things going. The stakeholders and our constituents are pleading with us to take action to address global warming and we are in a unique position to lead on these issues and save the planet. Finally, we have a constitutional duty to conduct hearings and we have deadlines to meet.
Again we did not have agreement, so I resorted to the rules of parliamentary practice by scheduling two polls, one on Thursday, May 11, 2023 and the second on Friday, May 12, 2023. The first poll was to request a vote of the members of the full joint committee to obtain an agreement of the majority to conduct a poll to establish a committee hearing schedule for the 193rd Gen. court. The poll was sent to all members, both House and Senate. All members of the House voted in the affirmative, and the Senators chose not to vote. A majority having ruled in favor of the poll, a second poll was sent out on Friday, May 12, 2023 requesting a vote on the establishment of a hearing schedule. Again, it was sent to all members of the joint committee both House and Senate. The House members all voted unanimously in support of the schedule and the Senators refused to vote at all.
With the schedule adopted, a notice of the hearing from the joint committee was sent to all members, both House and Senate, on Monday, May 15, 2023.
Following that notice, Sen. Barrett sent out his missive in which he alluded to some of those more significant committee rules that are in dispute.
Simply put, as the House chair of this committee, I am advocating for committee rules that prevent one chair from maintaining absolute control over which bills are released from committee, a power that not only diminishes the influence of each individual member of the committee, but that was used in the last session to block many bills from being advanced.
I believe in this joint committee process and its ability to develop and apply subject matter experience to legislation in its jurisdiction, and to produce high quality work for further consideration by either of the two branches. That is why when a committee produces legislation, I believe members of the committee should have the opportunity to vote on it, and the public should be able to see that work product and react to it. Not to hide the ball by moving empty vehicles to Ways and Means and filling in the committee’s work later.
Sen. Barrett used the rules to unilaterally block consideration by the joint committee of the offshore wind proposal that was ready to be advanced in October 2021. It wasn’t until January 24, 2022, that the Committee advanced that legislation after Sen. Barrett finally agreed to allow the joint committee to vote on that bill.
In addition, towards the end of the session, I had proposed a poll for the 115 remaining bills pending before the committee. Again, Sen. Barrett unilaterally refused to agree to a poll denying the members of the committee an opportunity to weigh in on the disposition of each of these pieces of legislation. As a result, and in accordance with the rules, because there was no poll, all of the bills were reported out with a notation of "ought not to pass." The bills covered many different aspects of climate change and energy related legislation including green financing, recycling, and the bottle bill. This deprived not only members of this committee from considering the bills, but also deprived the presenters from advancing their bills beyond our committee, and deprived the general public of an opportunity to address issues of great public interest.
I don’t think that’s how this committee should do business.
Unfortunately, the Senate chair has used this disagreement as a reason for taking no action on the bills currently before this committee. In fact, he is trying to prevent us from hearing the bills or otherwise addressing our constitutional responsibility. Instead, while he now apparently agrees that we should be conducting hearings, he has chosen to do so in a separate proceeding involving Senate members only on the very same topics I proposed we jointly hold hearings. This is not only inefficient, it is nonsensical and is incurring unnecessary costs. Moreover, it is inconvenient to the stakeholders and witnesses who wish to offer testimony. That is most unfortunate. I remain committed to the joint committee process and have asked the Senators to join us for this hearing today. I have even offered a set of temporary rules tailored to hearings only, identical to the rules under which we conducted hearings last session, and Chair Barrett has refused, failed, and neglected to take us up on this offer.
Thus, we have no choice but to proceed in this manner to address the bills that have been referred to us.
With that, we will begin hearing testimony of the witnesses who have signed up to testify today.