The Legislative Process
Since the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629, the official name of the legislative body in Massachusetts has been the Great and General Court. No other representative assembly in the country has had as long a record of continuous meeting as the General Court. The first General Court met under the provisions of the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company.
After the revocation of the charter in 1684, there was a period of three years beginning in May 1686, during which the General Court did not meet. From May 1692 until June 1774, when General Gage dissolved it, the General Court operated under the Province Charter. The body continued to meet as the Provincial Congress. In the summer of 1775, a new General Court met which was composed of two deputies from each town. These deputies elected an upper house or Council of twenty-eight members and the powers of a Governor were then given to this Council. This form of government continued until 1780.
The present General Court was established under the provisions of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and has been meeting regularly as a bicameral body since October 25, 1780. It is the oldest two-chamber legislature in the United States.
Since 1780, the Massachusetts Senate has consisted of 40 members, elected from districts throughout the Commonwealth. The membership of the House of Representatives historically has fluctuated since its origin. After reaching a high of 748 members in 1811, the House stabilized at 240 members from 1857 until 1978. The voters of the Commonwealth approved a decrease in the House membership to 160, where it has stayed since the beginning of the 1979-1980 legislative session.
Source: Levitan, Donald, Your Massachusetts Government 10th ed., Boston: Government Research, 1984
How a Bill Becomes a Law:
- A Petition is filed with House or Senate Clerk.
- The Clerk gives the bill a number and assigns it to a committee.
- The committee holds a public hearing before making its report on the bill.
- The committee report goes to the House or Senate floor. An unfavorable report kills the bill, while a favorable report is considered the First Reading.
- If the bill relates to finances, it is referred to the Committee on Ways and Means. When this committee makes a report, it goes back to the floor for a Second Reading.
- On the floor, the bill may be debated and amended. If favorable action is taken, the bill is referred to the Committee on Bills in Third Reading.
- A vote is taken on “Passing the Bill to be Engrossed.” A favorable vote sends the bill on to the other branch.
- The bill must also be debated, amended, and engrossed by the other branch.
- If the second branch passes an amended version of the bill, it is sent back to the first branch for concurrence. If concurrence is rejected, the bill must go to a conference committee.
- A vote is held in both branches on whether to enact the conference committee version of the bill.
- The bill is then sent to the Governor for action, if it is enacted by both branches.
- The Governor, during the ten-day period allowed under the Constitution, may either sign or veto the bill, let it become law by taking no action, or send it back to the Legislature for amendments.
- The House and Senate can override a veto by getting two-thirds of the House and Senate members to vote against the veto.
- If the bill is not sent to the Governor for action within the two-year legislative session, it must be refiled for the next session and go through the entire process again.