Difference between revisions of "Massachusetts General Court"

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In 2011, the General Court will be in session from January 5 through a date not yet decided by the Legislature.<ref>[http://www.malegislature.gov/Events General Court Events]</ref>
In 2011, the General Court was in session from January 5 November 16.<ref>[http://www.malegislature.gov/Events General Court Events]</ref>

Revision as of 13:29, 30 June 2014

Massachusetts General Court

Seal of Massachusetts.png
General Information
Type:   State legislature
Term limits:   None
2015 session start:   January 14, 2014
Website:   Official Legislature Page
Senate President:   Stanley Rosenberg (D)
House Speaker:  Robert DeLeo (D)
Majority Leader:   Harriette Chandler (D) (Senate),
Ronald Mariano (D) (House)
Minority Leader:   Bruce Tarr (R) (Senate),
Bradley Jones, Jr. (R) (House)
Members:  40 (Senate), 160 (House)
Length of term:   2 years (Senate), 2 years (House)
Authority:   Chapter 1, Massachusetts Constitution
Salary:   $61,133/year + per diem
Last Election:  November 6, 2012
40 seats (Senate)
160 seats (House)
Next election:  November 4, 2014
Redistricting:  Massachusetts Legislature has control
The Massachusetts General Court (formally styled, The Great and General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) is the state legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The name "General Court" is a hold-over from the Colonial Era, when this body also sat in judgement of judicial appeals cases. Before the adoption of the state constitution in 1780, it was called the "Great and General Court," but the official title was shortened by John Adams, author of the constitution, apparently in the name of republican simplicity. It is a bicameral body. The upper house is the Massachusetts State Senate which is composed of 40 members. The lower body, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, has 160 members. (Until 1978, it had 240 members[1]) The General Court was established in 1930 when the Massachusetts Bay Colony obtained a new charter. It meets in the Massachusetts State House in Boston, Massachusetts.

The current President of the Senate is Therese Murray, and the Speaker of the House is Robert DeLeo. Democrats hold super-majorities in both chambers.

State Senators and Representatives both serve two-year terms.[2]

As of April 2015, Massachusetts is one of 7 Democratic state government trifectas.

See also: Massachusetts House of Representatives, Massachusetts State Senate, Massachusetts Governor


The Massachusetts Constitution contains provisions regarding when the General Court is to meet. This subject has been the focus of several amendments to the Constitution. Originally, Chapter 1 of the Massachusetts Constitution called for the General Court to convene on the last Wednesday of May. Then, Amending Article X called for legislative sessions to convene yearly on the first Wednesday of January. Later, Amending Article LXXII called for the General Court to meet once every two years, but Amending Article LXXV repealed that amendment. Therefore, the rules that currently govern when the General Court is to meet are in Amending Article X.

Article X calls for the General Court to convene its regular session on the first Wednesday of January. The session does not dissolve until a new regular session convenes in the next year. Article X specifies that it does not prevent the General Court from meeting at any time that it judges necessary.


See also: Dates of 2014 state legislative sessions

In 2014, the General Court will be in session from January 14 through January 6, 2015.

Major issues

Major issues in the 2014 legislative session include the minimum wage, unemployment insurance reform, gun control and assisted suicide.[3][4]


See also: Dates of 2013 state legislative sessions

In 2013, the General Court was in session from January 2 to December 31.

Major issues

Major issues in the 2013 legislative session included revenue shortfalls, transportation financing, gun control, and health care costs.[5]


See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions

In 2012, the General Court was in session starting January 4 through July 31, but informal sessions may take place throughout the year.

Major issues

Leading the agenda was a crackdown on abuses at special education collaboratives in the state. Other issues included controlling health costs and a sentencing bill that would bar parole for prisoners convicted of more than two violent crimes.[6]

In August 2012, Sen. Mike Rush (D) and Rep. Ed Coppinger (D) released a record of legislative accomplishments from the session. Among the major policy items successfully addressed, they note the passage of balanced FY 2012 and 2013 state budgets, a health care cost containment bill, strategic economic development legislation, and the legalization of casino gaming.[7]


In 2011, the General Court was in session from January 5 November 16.[8]


In 2010, the General Court convened its session on January 6th, and it remained in session throughout 2010.[9]

Role in state budget

See also: Massachusetts state budget

The state operates on an annual budget cycle. The sequence of key events in the budget process is as follows:[10][11]

  1. Budget instruction guidelines are sent to state agencies in July of the year preceding the start of the new fiscal year.
  2. State agencies submit their budget requests in September.
  3. Agency hearings are held in August and September.
  4. The governor submits his or her proposed budget to the state legislature on the fourth Wednesday in January.
  5. The legislature typically adopts a budget in June. A simple majority is required to pass a budget. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Massachusetts is one of 44 states in which the governor has line item veto authority.[11]

The governor is legally required to submit a balanced budget proposal. Likewise, the legislature is legally required to pass a balanced budget.[11]

Cost-benefit analyses

See also: Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative Cost-Benefit Study
Map showing results of the Pew-MacArthur cost-benefit study.

The Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative released a report in July 2013 indicating that cost-benefit analysis in policymaking led to more effective uses of public funds. Looking at data from 2008 through 2011, the study's authors found that some states were more likely to use cost-benefit analysis, while others were facing challenges and lagging behind the rest of the nation. The challenges states faced included a lack of time, money and technical skills needed to conduct comprehensive cost-benefit analyses. Massachusetts was one of 29 states with mixed results regarding the frequency and effectiveness in its use of cost-benefit analysis.[12]

Ethics and transparency

Following the Money report

See also: "Following the Money" report, 2014

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer-focused nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., released its annual report on state transparency websites in April 2014. The report, entitled "Following the Money," measured how transparent and accountable state websites are with regard to state government spending.[13] According to the report, Massachusetts received a grade of A- and a numerical score of 90.5, indicating that Massachusetts was "leading" in terms of transparency regarding state spending.[13]

Open States Transparency

See also: Open States' Legislative Data Report Card

The Sunlight Foundation released an "Open Legislative Data Report Card" in March 2013. Massachusetts was given a grade of F in the report. The report card evaluated how adequate, complete and accessible legislative data was to the general public. A total of 10 states received an A: Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.[14]


In Massachusetts, the state legislature has control over the redistricting process. In 2011, the state legislature adopted a Special Joint Committee on Redistricting, which includes seven senators and 21 representatives. The partisan composition was 23 Democrats and 5 Republicans.[15]


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Massachusetts experienced a 3.1 percent increase in population between 2000 and 2010. Specifically, the population rose from approximately 6.35 million to 6.55 million. However, the nation as a whole saw a population increase of 9.7 percent, a much faster rate than Massachusetts, and Massachusetts lost a Congressional seat as a result of the relatively slow growth.[16][17][18]

The Special Joint Committee on Redistricting was generally recognized as a relatively open process compared to past redistricting efforts.[19] Some towns petitioned for having one representative, rather than being split between two state legislative districts.[20] Other citizen groups expressed strong interests in having more minority-majority districts.[21][22] In October 2011, the Committee produced and approved a map that increased the number of minority-majority districts and shuffled a few towns, splitting some but consolidating others into one district.[23][24]



See also: Comparison of state legislative salaries

As of 2013, members of the Massachusetts General Court are paid $61,133/year. Legislators receive between $10/day to $100/day per diem, depending on distance from the state house. Compensation is vouchered and set by the legislature.[25]

When sworn in

See also: When state legislators assume office after a general election

Massachusetts legislators assume office the first Wednesday in January after the election.


There are 40 senatorial districts in Massachusetts, named for the counties in which they are located. Each member represents an average of 163,691 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[26] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 158,727.[27]

Party As of April 2015
     Democratic Party 34
     Republican Party 6
Total 40

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Massachusetts State Senate from 1992-2013.
Partisan composition of the Massachusetts State Senate.PNG

House of Representatives

Each Representative represents about 40,000 residents. Representative districts are named for the primary county in which they are located, and tend to stay within one county, although some districts contain portions of adjacent counties. Each member represents an average of 40,923 residents, as of the 2010 Census.[28] After the 2000 Census, each member represented 39,682.[29]

Party As of April 2015
     Democratic Party 125
     Republican Party 35
Total 160

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Massachusetts State House of Representatives from 1992-2013.
Partisan composition of the Massachusetts State House.PNG


Partisan balance 1992-2013

Who Runs the States Project
See also: Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States and Ballotpedia:Who Runs the States, Massachusetts
Partisan breakdown of the Massachusetts legislature from 1992-2013

Massachusetts State Senate: During every year from 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the Massachusetts State Senate. The Massachusetts State Senate is 1 of 16 state senates that was Democratic for more than 80 percent of the years between 1992-2013. During the last seven years of the study Massachusetts was under Democratic trifectas.

Across the country, there were 541 Democratic and 517 Republican state senates from 1992 to 2013.

Massachusetts State House of Representatives: During every year from 1992-2013, the Democratic Party was the majority in the Massachusetts State House of Representatives. The Massachusetts State House of Representatives is one of 18 state Houses that was Democratic for more than 80 percent of the years between 1992-2013. During the last seven years of the study Massachusetts was under Democratic trifectas.

Across the country, there were 577 Democratic and 483 Republican State Houses of Representatives from 1992 to 2013.

Over the course of the 22-year study, state governments became increasingly more partisan. At the outset of the study period (1992), 18 of the 49 states with partisan legislatures had single-party trifectas and 31 states had divided governments. In 2013, only 13 states had divided governments, while single-party trifectas held sway in 36 states, the most in the 22 years studied.

The chart below shows the partisan composition of the Office of the Governor of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts State Senate and the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1992-2013. Partisan composition of Massachusetts state government(1992-2013).PNG

SQLI and partisanship

The chart below depicts the partisanship of the Massachusetts state government and the state's SQLI ranking for the years studied. For the SQLI, the states were ranked from 1-50, with 1 being the best and 50 the worst. Massachusetts had a period of divided government between 1992 and 2006 before electing a Democratic trifecta in 2007. Between the years 1992 and 2004, Massachusetts remained in the top-10 in the SQLI ranking, hitting its highest spot (3rd) in 2000 under divided government. The state had its lowest ranking (24th) in 2006, also under divided government. During the years 2005 and 2006, Massachusetts fell eleven spots in the SQLI ranking under divided government, which was its largest drop in the ranking during the period of the study. The state has never had a Republican trifecta.

  • SQLI average with Democratic trifecta: 14.17
  • SQLI average with Republican trifecta: N/A
  • SQLI average with divided government: 7.20
Chart displaying the partisanship of Massachusetts government from 1992-2013 and the State Quality of Life Index (SQLI).

Legislative procedure

Lawmaking begins in the House or Senate Clerk's office where petitions, bills, and resolves are filed and recorded in a docket book. The clerks number the bills and assign them to appropriate joint committees. There are 26 of these committees, each responsible for studying the bills which pertain to a specific area (i.e., taxation, education, health care, insurance, etc.). Each committee is composed of six senators and eleven representatives. The standing committees schedule public hearings for the individual bills, which afford citizens, legislators and lobbyists the opportunity to express their views. Committee members meet at a later time in executive session to review the public testimony and discuss the merits of each bill before making their recommendations to the full membership of the House or Senate. Note that the public may still observe "executive" sessions, but may not participate in these meetings. The committee then issues its report, recommending that a bill "ought to pass" or "ought not to pass" and the report is submitted to the Clerk's office.

The first reading of a favorably-reported bill is automatic and occurs when the committee's report appears in the Journal of the House or Senate Clerk. Matters not requiring reference to another Joint, House or Senate committee are, following the first reading, referred without debate to the Committee on Steering and Policy in the Senate (except certain special laws relative to a city or town), or placed in the Orders of the Day (the Calendar) without debate, for a second reading in the House. If a bill affects the finances of the Commonwealth, it is referred to the Senate or House Committee on Ways and Means after the first reading. If it affects county finances, the bill is read and referred to the Committee on Counties of the House (if the matter is reported into the House). Adverse reports ("ought not to pass") are also referred to the Committee on Steering and Policy in the Senate or placed without debate in the Orders of the Day for the next session of the House. Acceptance by either branch of an adverse report is considered the final rejection of the matter. However, an adverse report can be overturned. A member may move to substitute the bill for the report, and, if the motion to substitute carries, the matter is then given its first reading and follows the same procedure as if reported favorably by committee.

After a bill takes its second reading, it is open to debate on amendments and motions. Following debate, a vote is taken and if the bill receives a favorable vote by the membership, it is ordered to a third reading and referred to the Committee on Bills in the Third Reading. This amounts to preliminary approval of the bill in that branch. That committee examines technical points, as well as the legality and constitutionality of the measure, and ensures that it does not duplicate or contradict existing law. The committee then issues a report and returns the bill to the House or Senate for its third reading. At that time, legislators can further debate and amend the bill. Following the third reading, the body votes on "passing the bill to be engrossed."

The bill must then pass through three readings and engrossment in the second legislative branch. Should that occur, it is sent to the Legislative Engrossing Division where it is typed on special parchment in accordance with the General Laws. However, if the second branch passes an amended version of the bill, the legislation returns to the original branch for a vote of concurrence in the amendment. If concurrence is rejected, a conference committee consisting of the three members from each legislative branch representing both political parties may be formed to effect a compromise piece of legislation. When a compromise is reached, the bill is sent to both legislative branches for their approval.

A vote "to enact" the bill, first in the House and later in the Senate, is the final step in the passage of a bill by the legislature. Following enactment, the bill goes to the governor, who may sign the bill into law, allow it to become law without signing it (if the governor holds the bill for ten days without taking any action while the legislature is in session, it becomes law without his or her signature), veto it, or return it to the legislature with recommended changes. If the legislature has concluded its yearly session, and the governor does not sign the bill within ten days, it dies. This is referred to as a "pocket veto." This ten-day period includes Sundays and holidays, even if they fall on the tenth day, and it begins the day after the legislation is laid on the governor's desk.

A bill signed by the governor, or passed by two-thirds of both branches over his veto, becomes a law. It is usually effective in ninety days. The day after the governor signs the bill is considered to be the first day, and each succeeding day, including Sundays and holidays is counted until the ninetieth. Laws considered "emergency" in nature take effect immediately upon signing if the legislature has voted to attach an "emergency preamble" to the bill. Adoption of the preamble requires a two-thirds standing vote of the membership. The governor may also declare an act to be an emergency law and make it effective at once. A special act takes effect thirty days from the day it is signed, unless it contains a provision to make it effective immediately.

Joint Legislative Committees

There are currently 27 joint standing committees.

There is also one special joint committee.

Decommissioned committee:

External links


  1. Where we Stand: Government: Legislature Massachusetts League of Women Voters. Retrieved December 20, 2006.
  2. Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Article LXXXII.
  3. The Washington Post, "Massachusetts session preview: A full policy plate for 2014," January 9, 2014. Accessed January 14, 2014
  4. The Boston Globe, "Minimum wage battles are shifting to the states," January 13, 2014. Accessed January 14, 2014
  5. Boston.com, "Mass. formally opens legislative session," January 2, 2013
  6. Washington Examiner, "Mass. lawmakers to weigh bill on special ed groups," January 4, 2012
  7. Wicked Local Roslingdale, "Sen. Rush, Rep. Coppinger announce legislative highlights," August 18, 2012
  8. General Court Events
  9. 2010 session dates for the Massachusetts legislature
  10. National Conference of State Legislatures, "State Experiences with Annual and Biennial Budgeting," updated April 2011
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 National Association of State Budget Officers, "Budget Processes in the States, Summer 2008," accessed February 21, 2014
  12. Pew Charitable Trusts, "States’ Use of Cost-Benefit Analysis," July 29, 2013
  13. 13.0 13.1 U.S. Public Interest Research Group, "Following the Money 2014 Report," accessed April 15, 2014
  14. Sunlight Foundation, "Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information," accessed June 16, 2013
  15. Beacon Hill Roll Call, "Senate approves redistricting commission," February 11, 2011
  16. U.S. Census Bureau, "2010 Census: Massachusetts Profile," 2011
  17. Belmont Citizen-Herald, "Census preparing to deliver redistricting data to states," January 13, 2011
  18. Boston Globe, "Census begins fight on districts," March 23, 2011
  19. Boston Herald, "Lawmakers launch Mass. redistricting process," March 16, 2011
  20. Wicked Local Randolph, "Officials push for only one state rep for Randolph," January 27, 2011
  21. Eagle Tribune, "Proposal would create Latino-heavy legislative districts — and make targets out of Baddour and Finegold," June 26, 2011
  22. Boston Globe, "Advocates seek boost in Mass. minority voter clout," October 5, 2011
  23. Mass Live, "Massachusetts legislators release maps of proposed new seats for state Senate, House," October 18, 2011
  24. Wicked Local Winchester, "Redrawn legislative map makes Lexington one House district," October 19, 2011
  25. NCSL.org, "2012 State Legislator Compensation and Per Diem Table," accessed March 18, 2013
  26. U.S. Census Bureau, "Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010," April 2011
  27. U.S. Census Bureau, "States Ranked by Population," April 2, 2001. Accessed February 13, 2014
  28. U.S. Census Bureau, "Population Distribution and Change: 2000 to 2010," April 2011
  29. U.S. Census Bureau, "States Ranked by Population," April 2, 2001. Accessed February 13, 2014