BOSTON — The state Legislature is entering the final days of its two-year session with a mountain of unfinished business and a growing number of calls to extend its schedule.
While the session ends Dec. 31, the state House and Senate traditionally wrap up formal sessions by July 31, giving lawmakers a break to run for reelection.
But with the state budget nearly a month late, and a host of other major pieces of legislation hung up in deliberations, some are suggesting lawmakers should stay put.
"I don't think they have any option but to keep going," said David Tuerck, president of the Beacon Hill Institute. "Politically it would be disastrous to recess without approving a budget."
Few lawmakers have challengers in the fall primary or general election, and the coronavirus outbreak has severely limited traditional press-the-flesh campaigning.
As such, arguments for a month-long recess are pretty weak, Tuerck said.
To be sure, a number of lawmakers say they would support staying in session to approve the budget and other bills, if legislative leaders make the call.
"I'm open to it, but we need to clearly define what will be addressed and set a timeline to get it done," said Rep. Tom Walsh, D-Peabody. "The budget, certainly, economic development and housing are important, and other big-ticket items."
Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, said she too supports going longer to get work done on veterans issues and a bill that would improve reporting of sewer overflows into the state's waterways, including the Merrimack River.
"There's a lot of important legislation that we need to take up," she said.
Topping the list of bills tied up in negotiations is the state's nearly $45 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
The state is running on a $5.25 billion interim budget that expires at the end of the month. Gov. Charlie Baker has filed a second interim budget to go beyond that.
Lawmakers are also grappling with police reform, as well as proposals addressing health care costs, climate change, transportation and economic development.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, have held discussions with other legislative leaders about extending the session if necessary.
Still, both have expressed optimism that lawmakers can work their way through the mountain of unfinished bills by the end of the month.
Lawmakers can still vote on bills during informal sessions after July 31, but they lack sufficient numbers to challenge any vetoes or amendments.
What's more, debate on legislation taken up during informal sessions can be blocked by objections from any single lawmaker.
But the Legislature could easily change that, observers say.
"They're going to have to change the rules — because there's no way they're going to be done by July 31," Tuerck said.
Even if they do extend the session, lawmakers won't need to physically be at the Statehouse to vote on the budget or other bills. The Legislature has been meeting and approving bills in remote formal sessions with only a handful of lawmakers in the actual House and Senate chambers as a precaution against spreading the coronavirus.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.