With hours remaining on the clock in the formal 2015-2016 legislative session, Massachusetts lawmakers struggled Sunday to reach final accords on several major bills that had been the focus of discussion for months on Beacon Hill.
The Legislature approved a wide-ranging bill designed to help cities and towns govern local affairs more efficiently and cope with ever-increasing budget pressures. But closed-door talks dragged on as the House and Senate worked to resolve differences holding up final passage of other key measures, including a bill that calls for dramatically increasing the state's reliance on renewable energy sources such as hydropower and offshore wind.
Negotiations over a more than $700 million economic development plan also inched forward after apparently bogging down over a Senate proposal to apply the state's hotel and motel tax to lodging services such as Airbnb and vacation rentals.
By rule, the Legislature must by midnight Sunday end formal meetings for the session that began in January of last year. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, speaking to reporters after a Democratic caucus earlier in the day, said he would not consider waiving the rule and extending the session beyond the deadline.
DeLeo said it was not surprising to see negotiations continue until the final hours.
"People try to wait until the bitter end," said DeLeo, responding to criticism that last-minute deals would afford rank-and-file lawmakers, not to mention the general public, little or no time to review or comment on the final details before they were voted into law.
An avid baseball fan, DeLeo compared the process to major league teams waiting for the trade deadline - also Sunday - to pull off transactions.
Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg suggested on Saturday that the House had been slow in advancing certain bills, leading to the frenetic last-minute negotiations. DeLeo disagreed.
"I think if we started this two months ago we would still be here today," he said.
The energy and economic developments bills were among six that were identified earlier in the month by Democratic leaders and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker as priorities in the closing weeks of the session.
Only one of the six, a measure requiring pay equity for men and women in the workplace, had been sent to Baker's desk prior to Sunday.
The municipal modernization bill would eliminate what many local officials viewed as outdated state rules and provide cities and towns with more autonomy from the state.
"What is at stake here is making the job of our local officials easier," said Sen. Barbara L'Italien, an Andover Democrat who led negotiations on the bill. "We want to bring things up to the 21st century and reflect current practice."
Left out of the final bill was a provision sought by municipal officials, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, that would give cities and towns more flexibility in issuing liquor licenses.
Negotiations continued on the two other "big six" bills, one that would allow the state to regulate popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, the other restricting non-compete clauses in private employment contracts that critics contend stifle innovation.
Most bills that are not passed by the deadline would have to be re-filed for the next two-year session beginning in January. Lawmakers can meet informally through the end of the year and pass non-controversial bills, if no members object.