Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

What is the Massachusetts State Legislature called?

The General Court of Massachusetts is the official name for the state legislature and is typical of most state governments.  It embraces the same principles of checks and balances that are embodied in the U.S. Constitution. 

When is the legislature in session?

The Massachusetts state legislature sits in a biennial session, which begins on the first Wednesday in January of the odd-numbered years.  All formal business of the first year of the session must be concluded by the third Wednesday in November of that year.  The legislature then sits in an informal session until the first Wednesday of January of the second year (even numbered years) at which time the Legislature begins formal sittings until the last day of July of the second year, and finishes the remainder of the session in an informal sitting.

What is the procedure for filing a bill?

The deadline for filing legislation is 5:00 p.m. on the first Wednesday in December preceding the beginning of the new biennial session.  If this deadline is missed, a bill may be late-filed.  Late filed bills, which are routinely admitted, must be approved by the House and Senate Committees on Rules and then receive the approval of four-fifths of the members of each branch to be introduced.

Can anyone file a bill?

Under the State Constitution, any citizen may file a proposed piece of legislation with the General Court through his or her representation or senator.  This "right of free petition" is unique to Massachusetts.  In addition, there is no prohibition upon an individual's right to continually re-file a bill year after year.

How many bills are filed and how are they sorted out?

Each session, there are approximately 6,000 bills filed in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.  It is the responsibility of the clerks' office to sort and number each of these bills and assign them by their subject matter to the appropriate committee. The staffs of the twenty-two joint House and Senate committees devote most of January and February to organizing and analyzing these measures. 

What does each committee do with their assigned bills?

Public hearings on bills are held by the respective committees beginning in late February and generally ending in June.  A "daily list" of bills is published on each legislative day prior to the date of committee hearings.  Anyone may present testimony in support or opposition to a bill at the public hearing.

What happens after public hearings?

Immediately following the public hearing, the committee is apt to convene in executive session.  Although executive sessions are open to the public, only the committee members and staff may discuss the bill.  At this time the committee then votes to "report the bill out of committee."  The committee report usually takes one of three forms:


1. Favorable report  (ought to pass) - the committee recommends passage of the bill in its original form, with amendments, or in a new draft;


2. Adverse report  (ought not to pass) - the committee recommends that the bill be killed;


3. Study order  - technically means the bill be studied during the recess but most often is used as a quiet way to kill a bill.