Ahead of Wednesday's formal session, the House Ways and Means Committee is pushing out an amended version of the Senate-approved bill adjusting a 2016 ballot law concerning animal welfare.
The voter law sets standards for how much space is required to keep pigs, calves and egg-laying hens. For hens, it requires enough room for the birds to be capable of "fully spreading both wings without touching the side of an enclosure or other egg-laying hens and having access to at least 1.5 square feet of usable floor space per hen."
The new law is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.
During debate on its bill in June, Sen. Jason Lewis said standards and practices affecting egg-laying hens have evolved since voters approved new rules for the farms that produce eggs, pork and veal. Many egg producers now use vertical aviaries -- instead of horizontal ones, with the birds all enclosed on a single level -- that provide hens with room to fly upwards, perch and roost, he said.
"If we don't take action, there will be very few egg producers who will actually be in compliance with the standard as established in the ballot question, and that is not enough egg producers to meet demand here in the commonwealth -- in fact far from it," Lewis said in June.
The redrafted House bill, like the Senate bill, would allow one square foot of space per bird in aviaries that allow "unfettered access to vertical space."
If the bill advances Tuesday from Ways and Means, as expected, the House could vote to pass it as soon as Wednesday and the branches would then have to agree on a consensus bill to send to Gov. Charlie Baker.