Did you know… the Massachusetts Legislature is one of few in the country that meets full-time. They have two year-long sessions, with elections every two years.
In January of odd years, the Legislature convenes to consider bills and resolutions, conduct oversight, and make sure that state programs are funded through annual and supplemental budgets. Bills filed in January are considered through the rest of the two years, and must be re-introduced in future years (learn more about how a bill becomes a law here).
Most bills are filed before the bill filing deadline, which is usually towards the end of January at the beginning of the session. However, bills can be filed at any time. Often, bills filed after the bill filing deadline are prompted by events that show flaws in the legal system.
All bills, regardless of when they are filed, expire at the end of the session. While this technically is in early January, the legislature generally stops considering controversial matters after July 31 of the second year of the session.
Let’s look at PAWS I as an example of the steps required for a bill to become law in Massachusetts:
PAWS I Filing
PAWS I was filed after the shocking “Puppy Doe” cruelty case was investigated by ARL law enforcement in 2013. Around the country and even the world, people were horrified at the abuse this dog suffered. Often, cases like these highlight the weaknesses in our laws. Fortunately, the legislature sprang into action.
In October of 2013, ten months into the 188th session, Senator Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) filed an aggressive bill to strengthen our laws and help prevent such cruelty from happening again. While this may seem early, the many deadlines of the legislature mean this was a relatively late file.
This shortened clock put this incredibly important legislation at a disadvantage from the beginning. The bill was sent to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, which is responsible for conducting hearings for bills that would create or update crimes and penalties.
PAWS I Committee
The Joint Committee on the Judiciary Branch sees one of the largest volume of bills referred to it.
Committees must dispense with bills by a certain point in the session. However, in Massachusetts, each bill has the opportunity for public comment at hearing to address concerns with legislation, so it is not uncommon for bills to be worked on by the committee for a time after the hearing.
This is sometimes extended for bills filed later in the session, as they don’t have as much time to be considered. PAWS I was up against the clock as the committee hearing happened in mid-April, after the deadline to move bills out of committee.
In early July, PAWS I emerged favorably from the Judiciary Committee. Unfortunately, not all bills favorably reported from committee become law, so there were several more steps to strengthen animal cruelty laws.
PAWS I Debate
July of even years marks the final month of the legislative session. While the legislature continues to work past July, they meet informally and will not take up controversial matters that require a roll call vote. When the legislature meets informally, any one legislator can object to a bill, killing it.
On July 21, the PAWS I bill was amended by House Ways and Means and sent to House Steering, Policy and Scheduling, which sent the bill to the entire House for debate. On July 30, with just 48 hours left in the formal session, the bill was put up for a Third Reading and debated by the House.
For a bill to become a law, identical language must be agreed to by both the House and the Senate, and it must be signed by the Governor. The Governor has 10 days to sign the bill, veto the bill, or do nothing.
If the bill is vetoed by the Governor, 2/3 of the legislature can override the veto, to make the bill law. However, this can only happen by a roll call, so it must be sent to the Governor more than 10 days before the end of July.
On July 31, the Senate debated the PAWS I bill. There were some changes made from the House version. This meant that the bill would have to be reconciled in order to move forward. The end of the session was looming.
PAWS I – The Final Passage
Although the end of July marks defeat for most bills, when there is consensus in the legislature to move bills forward, they are able to continue.
On August 11, the Senate conceded to the House language, making the language identical in both branches. With this progress, on August 14, the House and Senate took the final votes on the legislation, putting it on the Governor’s desk, where PAWS I was signed less than a week later on August 20.
Bills moving through the legislature have countless hurdles, but often their greatest opposition is time. Fortunately, because of a strong commitment in the legislature to strengthen the Commonwealth’s animal cruelty laws, animals did not have to wait for these crucial provisions to be signed into law.
However, partially due to this shortened time frame, there were things that the legislature wanted to further consider. To accomplish this, they created the Animal Cruelty and Protection Task Force, of which ARL was a member.
This task force would issue a report that would become the basis for what would become PAWS II which became law in 2018.
PAWS I Timeline
10/7/2013 Senate Filed
10/16/2013 Senate Referred to the committee on Rules of the two branches, acting concurrently
10/31/2013 Senate Rules suspended
10/31/2013 Senate Referred to the committee on Judiciary
11/6/2013 House House concurred
3/20/2014 House Reporting date extended to Monday June 30, 2014, pending concurrence
4/3/2014 Senate Senate concurred
4/17/2014 Joint Hearing scheduled for 04/24/2014 from 01:30 PM-05:00 PM in A-2
7/7/2014 House Accompanied a new draft, see H4244
7/7/2014 House Reported from the committee on the Judiciary
7/7/2014 House New draft of S767, S807, S1914 and H1182
7/7/2014 House Bill reported favorably by committee and referred to the committee on House Ways and Means
7/21/2014 House Committee recommended ought to pass with an amendment by substitution of a bill with the same title, see H4328
7/21/2014 House Committee recommended ought to pass and referred to the committee on House Steering, Policy and Scheduling with the amendment pending
7/22/2014 House Committee reported that the matter be placed in the Orders of the Day for the next sitting for a second reading with the amendment pending
7/22/2014 House Rules suspended
7/22/2014 House Read second, amended (as recommended by the committee on House Ways and Means)
7/22/2014 House New draft substituted, see H4328
7/21/2014 House Reported from the committee on House Ways and Means
7/21/2014 House New draft of H4244
7/22/2014 House Substituted for H4244
7/22/2014 House Ordered to a third reading
7/30/2014 House Read third
7/30/2014 House Amendment 1 adopted
7/30/2014 House Amendment 2 adopted
7/30/2014 House Passed to be engrossed
7/31/2014 Senate Read
7/31/2014 Senate Rules suspended
7/31/2014 Senate Read second
7/31/2014 Senate New draft substituted, see S2345
7/31/2014 Senate Recommended new draft (Tarr, et al) for H4328
7/31/2014 Senate Substituted as a new draft for H4328
7/31/2014 Senate Ordered to a third reading
7/31/2014 Senate Read third
7/31/2014 Senate Passed to be engrossed – Roll Call #469 [YEAS 40 – NAYS 0]
7/31/2014 House Read; and referred to the House committee on Ways and Means
7/31/2014 House Committee recommended ought to pass with an amendment, striking out all after the enacting clause and inserting in place thereof the text of an amendment, H4388
7/31/2014 House Referred to the House committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling with the amendment pending
7/31/2014 House Committee reported that the matter be placed in the Orders of the Day for the next sitting with the amendment pending
7/31/2014 House Rules suspended
7/31/2014 House Read second
7/31/2014 House Amendment adopted, as recommended by the committee on House Ways and Means, see H4388
7/31/2014 House Ordered to a third reading
7/31/2014 House Rules suspended
7/31/2014 House Read third and passed to be engrossed
8/11/2014 Senate Rules suspended
8/11/2014 Senate Senate concurred in the House amendment
8/14/2014 House Enacted
8/14/2014 Senate Enacted and laid before the Governor
8/20/2014 Senate Signed by the Governor, Chapter 293 of the Acts of 2014
 This is known as “Joint Rule 10 Day”. Why? The rule that requires the bill be moved by that date is Joint Rule #10. It serves as a break in the session, where bills generally must get a thumbs up or a thumbs down.
 A “roll call vote” is a vote that consists of each legislator voting yes, no, or abstaining. Roll call votes are required for some bills.