Filing a bill
Under the state Constitution any citizen may file a proposed piece of legislation with the General Court through his or her representation or senator. This "right of free petition" is unique to Massachusetts. In addition, there is no prohibition upon an individual's right to continually refile a bill year after year.
The deadline for filing legislation is 5 p.m. on the first Wednesday in December preceding the beginning of the new biennial session. If this deadline is missed, a bill may be late-filed. Late filed bills, which are routinely admitted, must be approved by the House and Senate Committees on Rules and then receive the approval of four-fifths of the members of each branch to be introduced.
A bill is filed in two parts — the petition and the bill. The petition is the vehicle for filing various types of matters for consideration by the General Court such as bills, resolves, resolutions or orders. The petition includes the title of the bill and the names of the legislative sponsors as well as any citizen or group sponsor. The bill is the actual legislation in draft form.
Each session there are approximately 6,000 bills filed in the House of Representatives and 2,000 in the Senate. It is the responsibility of the clerks' office to sort and number each of these bills and assign them by their subject matter to the appropriate committee.
The staffs of the twenty-two joint House and Senate committees devote most of January and February to organizing and analyzing these measures. Public hearings on the bills are held by the committees beginning in late February and generally ending in June. A "daily list" of bills is published on each legislative day prior to the date of committee hearings. Anyone may present testimony in support or opposition to a bill at the public hearing.
Immediately following the public hearing the committee is apt to convene in executive session. Although executive sessions are open to the public, only the committee members and staff may discuss the bill. At this time the committee then votes to "report the bill out of committee." The committee report usually takes one of three forms:
- Favorable report (ought to pass): The committee recommends passage of the bill in its original form, with amendments, or in a new draft
- Adverse report (ought not to pass): The committee recommends that the bill be killed
- Study order: Technically means the bill be studied during the recess but most often is used as a quiet way to kill a bill
A joint rule of the two branches requires that any bills referred to a committee before April 15 must be reported out of committee no later than the fourth Wednesday in June. However, any bill referred to a committee on or after April 15 must be reported on within ten days.