Budget, Marijuana Bills Unresolved as State Legislators Head into Holiday Break
"Absolutely no comments," said Sen. William Brownsberger - one of six conferees tasked with creating a final marijuana bill - when asked Thursday about the conference committee's progress ahead of a self-imposed Friday deadline. "How should I know?" was Sen. Patricia Jehlen's response to a similar question on Friday. "Every day, every hour is a surprise," said the lead Senate conferee on Friday. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS][/caption]STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — The House and Senate on Friday afternoon banged out of Beacon Hill for the holiday weekend, signaling that deals on a marijuana bill and a fiscal 2018 state budget are still out of reach.
Lawmakers had set Friday as their goal to get a marijuana bill to Gov. Charlie Baker, who felt confident they would.
Saturday marks the start of fiscal 2018 and the state will limp into that period with an interim budget since House and Senate negotiators are also still in disagreement over how to work out differences in an annual state spending bill that features revenue assumptions that are unlikely to materialize.
Baker on Friday was mostly unfazed about the annual budget bill being late.
"This process, properly in my opinion, and you probably won't like that, is a little bit of a black hole for all us," he told the News Service. "I think these guys need to have serious conversation with one another when they get to this point to try to figure out how to get to yes."
A House official told the News Service that the next formal House sessions - the type of sessions where conference committee reports might be considered - are scheduled for Thursday and Friday, July 6 and July 7.
The Senate adjourned Friday with plans to hold a formal session on Wednesday. It's unclear which bills the Senate will take up on Wednesday - the marijuana and budget conference bills, once produced, will go to the House first.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo was not available after the session to answer questions.
Lawmakers on the marijuana bill conference committee met on Friday, but it appears they could not resolve differences.
The Senate's lead negotiator on the bill to retool the November marijuana ballot law said Friday afternoon she did not know if her conference committee would reach a deal by the end of the day.
Sen. Patricia Jehlen, who is helming the conference committee with House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, shrugged when asked how negotiations were going.
"Every day, every hour is a surprise," she told the News Service while waiting with an aide for an elevator at about 3:30 p.m.
Working under a self-imposed deadline to develop a compromise by Friday, the marijuana conferees are ironing out House and Senate bills that take different approaches to taxation, governance and local control of the retail marijuana market that's set to launch next year.
The six-person group met briefly Friday morning and were expected to continue swapping proposals throughout the day.
Sen. Richard Ross, the Senate's Republican representative on the conference committee, said the group has been making progress and said he could not talk about any particular sticking points.
"We're still diligently working on trying to find a solution," he told the News Service Friday afternoon.
Asked if he was confident that the committee would reach a deal by the time the Senate meets next on Wednesday, Ross said, "I'm not confident about anything until the committee comes to some resolution. There's some real differences."
Lawmakers and Gov. Baker delayed implementation of the ballot law legalizing adult use of marijuana by six months to give them time to draft changes to it.
After the Senate adjourned, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg looked ahead to next Wednesday.
"We are organizing for a full formal session so that if a conference report or two are ready, we'll be ready," Rosenberg told the News Service.
Rosenberg declined to identify any sticking points or to characterize whether the conferees are closer or farther away from an agreement than they were Thursday, though he claimed that the discussions have been productive.
"They continue to talk. I don't know the detail and we don't talk about the detail outside of the conference process, but they have never stopped talking," Rosenberg said. He said, "The feedback is they're working hard, conversations are continuing and they're productive conversations."
--Michael P. Norton (with additional reporting from Katie Lannan, Andy Metzger and Matt Murphy), State House News Service