Massachusetts' "Great and General Court" is considered a full-time legislature, but "full-time" apparently has a different meaning on Beacon Hill. How many of the rest of us with full-time jobs get to take off the week before Thanksgiving and not be expected back at the office until after New Year's Day?

Massachusetts' "Great and General Court" is considered a full-time legislature, but "full-time" apparently has a different meaning on Beacon Hill. How many of the rest of us with full-time jobs get to take off the week before Thanksgiving and not be expected back at the office until after New Year's Day?


Under the rules adopted last January, the House and Senate must end formal sessions for the year on the third Wednesday in November in non-election years. So at midnight Wednesday, the Legislature called it a year. Only informal sessions at which no action can be taken on a motion if a single legislator objects are permitted.


It would be one thing if the Legislature had completed its work and deserved a break. But after pushing through a contentious budget and several significant reform bills, lawmakers took a recess for the Fourth of July and barely returned after that. Other than a bill allowing for an interim senator to be named to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, we cannot think of a significant piece of legislation that has made it to the governor's desk since July.


The Senate saw a flurry of activity this week, approving an ambitious education reform bill on Monday and a package of reforms in sentencing and criminal justice records on Wednesday. Those bills are worthwhile, but cramming the debate on complicated pieces of legislation into just a few hours - after months of inactivity - isn't the way it should be done.


In any event, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said his chamber won't take up the education reform bill until January, when the state faces a qualifying deadline for up to $250 million in federal "Race to the Top" funds. Nor does DeLeo seem to be in any hurry to take up the sentencing reform bill.


In a meeting with Daily News editors last month, DeLeo ticked off a list of bills he expected the House to act on before the end of formal sessions: new rules on distracted driving and testing for elderly drivers; reform of the criminal records system; an education reform bill and, perhaps, the National Popular Vote, an alternative to the Electoral College in presidential elections.


When he dropped the gavel Wednesday night, DeLeo was zero for four on his own list of priorities.


Gov. Deval Patrick, who had months ago submitted bills on education and sentencing reform similar to those considered this week by the Senate, and who had requested authority from the Legislature to make cuts to help close a $600 million budget cap - a version passed the House Wednesday but the Senate never got around to taking it up - said he was frustrated and urged legislative leaders to suspend the rules and stay in formal sessions until they took care of the most pressing legislation.


DeLeo refused, calling Patrick's suggestion "absurd." What's absurd is a state Legislature that calls itself full-time, then rewards its lack of productivity with a six-week holiday vacation.


The MetroWest Daily News