BOSTON, Mass. - How often have you, or someone you know, said, “There ought to be a law,” relative to something you heard or read in the media or noticed yourself.
You hear the expression in bars and in church halls. It comes up in barber shops, bowling alleys, cafeterias and other places where people gather to socialize and share tales of the latest outrage they’ve witnessed or about which they’ve heard. Is there some law that you think is needed or one that should be changed?
Well, Massachusetts is unique among the states in granting the right to all residents to propose a new law or to change an existing law. It’s called, the “Right of Free Petition,” and is found in Article XIX of the Massachusetts Constitution written by John Adams. Generally, bills are submitted through an individual’s state senator or state representative.
As a consequence of the “Right of Free Petition,” as many as 6,500 bills (about 2,500 in the Senate and 4,000 in the House) are filed in each two-year session. However, only about 10 percent become law. Some bills may be similar and some have been filed in previous sessions without success. This year, most bills will be filed by 5 p.m. on Jan. 18, 2013 although it is possible to file bills later in the year with the approval of the Legislature’s Rules Committee.
A “bill” is a proposal to create or change a state law. Every bill is assured a public hearing when the person who filed the bill, and any other person interested, can speak to the legislative committee to which the bill is assigned.
A petitioner should be well-prepared before testifying at a public hearing. Well organized, well-researched presentation statements naturally have a positive influence on committee members. If unable to attend a public hearing, a petitioner should prepare written testimony which can be accepted by a committee before the scheduled hearing.
Petitioners should prepare a summary of the planned testimony and make a number of copies for distribution to committee members, staff members and any media representatives present. This allows members to make notes on the testimony while the petitioner is speaking. If the petitioner is serving as a spokesperson for a group, he or she should mention that to the committee prior to testifying. Very often, only written testimony is accepted on re-filed bills.
At the conclusion of the presentation, committee members may request further information or clarification. After all testimony is heard, the hearing is complete and the committee will meet, in open executive session, either that day or at a later time, to decide whether to issue a favorable or unfavorable report. The report then goes to the House or Senate and, if it involves money, it is referred to the Ways and Means Committee of whichever branch that receives the bill.
The process of bringing a bill to fruition as a law in Massachusetts is a long, often tedious, one. Simply filing a bill is not enough to get it passed. If it is your idea, you have the primary responsibility to advocate for passage. However, it is also very exciting and extremely worthwhile. It brings the average citizen of the Commonwealth much closer to state government. And, quite likely, if a petitioner is successful in gaining acceptance for the legislation, that law will be in existence long after he or she and all the legislators who passed it have departed from the scene.
Any resident of the towns of Bellingham, Blackstone, Douglas, Dudley, Hopedale, Mendon, Milford, Millville, Northbridge, Oxford, Southbridge, Sutton, Uxbridge, or Webster interested in proposing a bill for the 2013-2014 session of the Massachusetts Legislature is encouraged to go to my web site, www.senatormoore.com, click the box on the left entitled, “What you’re asking,” and scroll down to the section headed, “Legislative Process.” This should help to answer questions for preparing a bill for submission. Then, email me at Richard.Moore@masenate.gov, preferably before Jan. 18t, and we will be happy to assist you with filing a bill.
Senator Richard T. Moore represents 14 towns in South Central Massachusetts in the Massachusetts State Senate.