“THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW”

By Bob Katzen

Friday, February 19 at 5 p.m. is the deadline for legislation to be filed for consideration during the 2021-2022 legislative session. Many late-filed bills are admitted to the Legislature following the deadline, but vast majority of proposals are filed by February 19.

Massachusetts is one of a handful of states that give citizens the “right of free petition”— the power to propose their own legislation. A citizen’s proposal must be filed in conjunction with his or her representative or senator or any other representative or senator. Sometimes a legislator will support the legislation and sponsor it along with the constituent. Other times, a legislator might disagree with the bill but will file it anyway as a courtesy. In those cases, the bill is listed as being filed “by request”— indicating that he or she is doing so at the request of the constituent and does not necessarily support it. Citizens that are interested in filing legislation should contact their own or any other representative or senator.

Perhaps one of the most famous bills filed “by request” goes all the way back to 1969 when a constituent opposed to the Vietnam War asked the late Newton Democratic Rep. James Shea to file a bill prohibiting Massachusetts citizens from being forced to fight in an “undeclared war.” The bill challenged the constitutionality of sending Bay State men to fight without a Congressional declaration of war. It was approved by the House and Senate and signed by the late Gov. Francis Sargent. The new law made national headlines.

To comply with the new law, Massachusetts initially filed a complaint in the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear the case, which was later refiled in the U.S. District Court federal court and dismissed — rejecting the state’s argument that President Richard Nixon had usurped the war-making powers of Congress. In a tragic footnote, Rep. Shea committed suicide in the fall of the year the legislation passed.

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