A Snapshot – The Work of a Legislator
By Senator John F. Keenan
With the summer giving way to “back to school” and the Legislature wrapping up the period during which it meets in “informal sessions”, I thought it would be a good time to provide a snapshot of my work as a legislator.
As one of forty state senators, I am a member of “The Great and General Court”, which is the official name of the state legislature in Massachusetts. The legislature has a two year session. The first order of business once the session starts in January is the filing of legislation. For the 2013/2014 session, approximately 5200 bills were filed. I filed 38 bills covering a range of topics, from issues of local concern such as charter changes in Abington and Rockland, and home rule petitions in Quincy, to statewide issues regarding substance abuse and mental health, and legislation affecting veterans and seniors. Once all bills are filed, they are assigned to the legislature’s various committees.
As the bills are assigned, each Senator is assigned to serve as chairperson of at least one committee, and to serve as a member on several others. For the current session, I serve as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health, as Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets, and am a member of six other committees.
As Senate Chair of the Public Health Committee, I work with the House Chair to review, research and hold public hearings on the approximately 350 bills assigned to the Committee. The bills cover such topics as prescription compounding, shortages of medications, makeup of boards of registration, food safety, disease prevention, genetically modified organisms, issues related to turbines and nuclear energy, research on diseases, vaccinations and other bills generally relating to the public’s health.
There is a public hearing on each bill. Some of the bills prompt hearings that last several hours, while others draw little attention. Additionally, I meet individually with people and groups who may be impacted by the legislation under consideration. Within about 12 months of bills being filed, the Committee is required to take action on each, by recommending either passage or defeat, or by calling for further study. Each of the committees on which I serve essentially follows the same process.
Beyond committee work, I spend a lot of time reviewing other legislation. The review includes meeting with experts and advocates, separate research, and visiting sites and facilities throughout the state. The state budget process also takes up a lot of time between May and July, and over the past few months the Senate passed comprehensive legislation relative to transportation, state benefits, and housing, all of which demanded substantial time. Helping constituents throughout the year with state government issues is also a very important part of my job.
Even though during the month of August the Legislature meets in informal sessions, i.e. it only considers non-controversial matters and no roll call votes are scheduled, the work continues. For instance, during the first two weeks of August I met with experts on the Second Amendment, reviewed nuclear power legislation with an industry representative, talked with Naturopathic doctors, met and reviewed with advocates a study on autism, held office hours in Abington and Rockland, hosted the Metropolitan Beaches Commission for a public hearing in Quincy, discussed prescription compounding with doctors and administrators from Beverly Hospital, worked with Senate Counsel on local legislation, met with Senator Markey and local officials in Quincy, held a meeting regarding child vaccinations, was briefed by state health insurance officials on behavioral health benefits, and presided over an informal session of the Senate, along with responding to constituent letters, emails and telephone calls, and attending local meetings and events.
The above is just a snapshot of the job of a legislator, but it gives some insight to the interesting, busy and varied work of the legislature. I truly enjoy the work, and consider it an honor to serve as your State Senator.
If you have any questions regarding the legislative process, particular legislation, or any other matter, please contact Senator John Keenan’s office at 617-722-1494 or by email at John.Keenan@masenate.gov.