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Massachusetts legislators ease into a new session of lawmaking

Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano speaks to the press after a joint meeting with Senate leadership and the Governor.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano speaks to the press after a joint meeting with Senate leadership and the Governor.

Massachusetts legislators are easing into a new session of lawmaking. Well, most lawmakers. Democrats won some eastern Massachusetts state House races by margins of seven votes and one vote, but Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano is not giving them those seats just yet. He's tasked that three member House committee to evaluate the claims made by Republican opponents who contested the results. As Matt Murphy of the State House News Service explains, this result is not holding up the organization and work of all House lawmakers.

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: These are two seats, one based on the North Shore, the other one based in the Nashoba Valley, and both were decided by very narrow margins, as you pointed out. And the Speaker of the House, with ongoing legal challenges in both of these elections, not wanting to put his finger on those scales, appointed a special commission of lawmakers to review these results. There is legal precedent here that the House is in sole control, and it has authority over who gets seated as members. So, there is precedent here.

And they held these hearings on Friday where lawmakers heard evidence presented by both sides. But while people are anxious to get these two lawmakers seated, and represent for their districts, the House is in the process of organizing itself. And these are two seats; either a Republican incumbent coming back, or two freshmen Democrats here. One of these was an open seat. So, this is not affecting leadership changes, leadership appointments, committee assignments or really anything to do with the House getting the ball rolling on their work for the new session.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Meanwhile, two freshman state reps, Shirley Arriaga of Chicopee and Aaron Saunders of Belchertown have been working from what's known as the bullpen until their permanent offices are ready. We talked to them last week. They seemed okay with the delay, but how long until they get all set up on Beacon Hill?

Yeah, it could be a while, typically. You mentioned the bullpen. This is a room that is otherwise a spacious hearing room in the state house used for some of the larger bill committee hearings. This is set up with desks, phones, computers for the new members until they get their office assignments. And that could not happen until perhaps February. We've seen it go as late as March.

Typically, there's a slow process in the Massachusetts legislature, unlike Congress, you see them come in, they move in right away, they get their committee assignments. Leadership here will take some time to figure out where it wants to put everybody, now that [Speaker Ron Mariano] has been reelected, he's got a number of high profile positions to fill in his leadership team. And one moving piece begets another. So, this has a trickledown effect and it usually takes some time to figure it all out.

Today is MLK Day, a day when equality, opportunity and privilege are top of mind. Gov. Maura Healey says she'll soon order an equity audit to make sure government works every day on policies to address disparities. So, what's Healey's plan for measuring equity?

The new governor is clearly cognizant of the fact that she's representing a breakthrough here in terms of both women in politics in Massachusetts, as well as a representative of the LGBTQ community. And she is ordering an equity audit across state government. And this is kind of a twofold thing; Both looking at representation in these positions: Does the workforce across state government reflect the state's population and the diversity of the state's population? She's going to have her team be thinking about this when they're filling out commissions and board positions. But she's also going to have agencies looking at the equity of the results being delivered by government in terms of health outcomes, ridership on transportation, you know, is housing being built in in an equitable way across neighborhoods and cities and towns? So, this is going to be a comprehensive effort, she says, to put equity at the forefront of a lot of the policy decisions that they're going to be making over the next four years.

And finally, the state gets a couple of new constitutional officers this Wednesday, when Diana DiZoglio is sworn in as State Auditor and Andrea Campbell becomes the Attorney General. Campbell is the first Black woman elected to statewide office in Massachusetts. So, do you expect any quick changes at the AG and Auditor's Office? When do DiZoglio and Campbell get started?

You know, maybe not quick. I think you always see changes when new faces come in. I wouldn't be surprised, in the AG's office in particular, if a lot of these cases that are in progress, I'm sure the new attorney general will take a look at these and probably continue with a lot of them. And then she'll look to put her own markon the office.

I think the auditor's office is perhaps more ripe for change. You have this state senator who came in who as an elected official, who spoke out against the status quo and the powers that be on Beacon Hill quite frequently. She has promised to try to do things like audit the state Legislature, which has been challenged legally before. So, I think a lot of people thinking that auditor DiZoglio may look to ruffle feathers when she gets into this at the office. And so, we'll see how quickly she takes some steps to do that.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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