Dems Can’t Agree On Landing Spot For Gun Bill
By Sam Doran
State House News Service
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 10, 2023…..With the unfinished fiscal 2024 budget, a road and bridge funding bill, and even their internal rules still tied up in slow-moving backroom negotiations, House and Senate Democrats found another area in which they disagreed Monday.
Lawmakers from both branches say firearm law reforms are a priority, but when a newly-filed gun reform bill came to the floor, the House and Senate were on different pages for a routine procedural step.
Rep. Michael Day filed his 140-page proposal June 26 after wrapping up a “listening tour” with 11 stops around the state. That same day, the House sent the bill to the Judiciary Committee, which Day co-chairs.
It takes agreement from the opposite branch to send a late-filed bill like Day’s into a joint committee, and a couple of weeks passed by without any action in the Senate.
“I assume it’s in the process like a lot of late-filed bills. A number of them were admitted today and I’m sure this is in the stream somewhere,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said after the Senate adjourned July 3.
Meantime, a Day aide was perched in the Senate Gallery watching several of that branch’s sessions from start to finish. And Day was vocal about the Senate’s pace to introduce his bill, telling Politico Massachusetts late last week that it was “astounding to [him] that the Senate refuses to assign this bill to a committee.”
“It’s usually a perfunctory exercise. The longer we sit on this, the longer people succumb to gun violence in our neighborhoods,” the Stoneham Democrat said.
Day reserved the Gardner Auditorium — the State House’s largest hearing room — on behalf of the Judiciary Committee for June 29 and 30, and then for July 13 and 14. No Judiciary Committee hearing was publicly advertised for any of those dates as of Monday.
The Senate’s position, it turned out on Monday, was that the bill doesn’t belong with Day’s panel.
Sen. Walter Timilty, who presided over the Senate Monday, said during a recess in the session that he hadn’t seen Day’s comments to Politico, but that branches customarily send gun-related bills to the Public Safety Committee, which he co-chairs.
“Traditionally, they have [been referred to Public Safety], as far as my service extends back in the Legislature. We’ll see what happens. It’s a work in progress,” Timilty told the News Service, around two hours before the Senate ultimately brought the matter to the floor.
“I like Rep. Day very much. He’s a fine guy,” the Milton Democrat added. “I’m happy to work on any bill that involves making the citizens of the commonwealth safer, in conjunction with Rep. Day and my colleagues.”
After holding its session open into the afternoon, the Senate voted to reroute the bill to the Public Safety Committee instead. That action bounced the bill back to the House, which as early as Thursday could vote to either back down from its earlier vote and let the matter go to Public Safety, which Timilty co-chairs with Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, or “insist” on its earlier vote and bounce the bill back to the Senate Chamber again.
A spokesman for Speaker Ronald Mariano said Monday afternoon that the House was considering its next steps.
In a statement to the News Service, Day stuck by the relevance of his committee to work on firearm legislation and said the Senate “chose to waste a week.”
“A year ago, this Legislature responded to the Supreme Court’s attempt to weaken Massachusetts gun safety statutes with a bill from the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Two weeks ago, I filed a bill that reflects the work that I, and a majority of my colleagues, have done in the wake of that decision. The House then referred it to the Judiciary Committee for a public hearing and for consideration,” Day said. “That the Senate chose to waste a week, convening three times without acting on this proposal, only to finally refer it to another Committee is incredibly disappointing, as this action delays a public hearing in the face of ongoing deadly gun violence in our streets.”
A Day aide pointed the News Service to 16 bills in the Judiciary Committee that he characterized as related to guns.
Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem, meanwhile, said “there are 47 other gun bills, from what I understand, including my own, that have been referred to Public Safety by both the House and the Senate.”
Among the major focuses of Day’s bill is cracking down on so-called ghost guns — homemade, untraceable firearms.
Creem and Rep. Marjorie Decker filed standalone “ghost gun” bills (H 2312 / S 1496) in January, before this session’s bill-filing deadline, and those were both referred to the Public Safety Committee.
“Public Safety is charged with issues relating to gun safety and firearms,” Creem, of Newton, told the News Service. “And I had assumed that this would go where all the other bills went. Because there’s a lot of bills, and it would be great if there was a hearing where all the bills could be heard. Lots of people have great ideas, and I think it’s great that Rep. Day filed an omnibus bill, and I think that we want to hear that and all of the bills, including mine.”
Creem called gun law reforms a “priority” for the Senate and said she “know[s] the House is anxious to get started.”
“I looked at it quickly,” she said of Day’s omnibus bill. “It’s very long. And there are certainly some good things in it.”