The 2015-16 formal session of the Massachusetts Legislature ends at the end of the month, and we’re still in there pitching for the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB).
In Massachusetts, as in most other states, legislative sessions run in two-year terms starting early in the odd year. Typically, there is a flurry of activity early in the session as bills are filed and legislative sponsors are recruited. However, soon afterward, budget matters predominate the legislative agenda. Non-budget bills often get pushed to the side until the spring and early summer of the even year, and at that point there’s another rush of advocacy activity in the State House to be among a small percentage of bills enacted into law.
During the current session, the HWB (House No. 1771) came out of the gate with some 58 sponsors and co-sponsors, led by our longtime lead sponsor, Rep. Ellen Story, and Sen. Jennifer Flanagan. In the House of Representatives, the HWB quickly advanced to a stage known as Third Reading, which means that it is eligible for a full floor vote by the House. However, it has been stuck at Third Reading since last fall, despite our ongoing efforts to move it forward. (We are hardly alone in reaching such status; a lot of bills get held up at this point.) We are still trying to persuade the House leadership to bring it to a floor vote.
This Thursday on the Senate side, we attempted to add the HWB as an amendment to the Senate’s economic development package, thanks to the efforts of Sen. Flanagan. It was a long shot effort that didn’t succeed. Nevertheless, it gave us an opportunity to circulate materials to the Senators that explained the need for the HWB and refuted some of the criticisms lodged against it.
During the past couple of days, I’ve had brief, cordial conversations with both the Speaker of the House and the Chair of the House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading. They are aware of our bill and have listened to our reasons for supporting it. I am optimistic that the positive relationships we’re building within the State House will lead us to eventual success.
I’ve said this before, but state legislative advocacy can be a frustrating, exasperating process, for citizen advocates and legislators alike. In Massachusetts, we still have a chance with the HWB in the remaining days of the current session, and if we don’t succeed this time, we’ll be back again. It’s as simple as that.