CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

 

CLT ALERT!
Tuesday, February 10, 2004

There are nine other amendments tomorrow!


Intense attention will be focused on Beacon Hill tomorrow as a constitutional convention convenes, and rightly so. On the agenda is a constitutional amendment designed to stop the expansion of civil rights for homosexual citizens short of the right to marry.

But the constitutional convention -- basically a joint session of the House and Senate convened for the sole purpose of considering amendments -- has more on its plate than gay marriage. There are 10 amendments up for consideration, seven of them scheduled for debate before the gay marriage amendment....

Another calls for increasing the terms of state representatives and senators from two years to four years. A case can be made for increasing Senate terms, but the lack of competition for legislative seats argues against reducing the opportunities for elected officials to put their records before voters....

Another amendment proposes changes to the citizen initiative process that, while they seem minor, could have a major impact on political decisions to come. The amendment would raise dramatically the number of signatures needed to get an initiative on the ballot, from 65,825 to 99,316 for a statutory change and 119,182.

Collecting signatures is already the most difficult part of the citizen initiative process, so difficult that most organizations promoting ballot questions end up hiring signature-gatherers. Raising the bar even higher will discourage organizers with grassroots support while leaving the field open to deep-pockets interest groups that can buy their way onto the ballot.

The amendment would also remove responsibility for naming and summarizing initiatives from the Secretary of State's office and give it to a new board that, we fear, could politicize a process that should be technical and unbiased.

The amendment has support in the Legislature, where career politicians have long resented initiatives like Proposition 2 and the Clean Elections Law impinging on their prerogatives. Of greater concern to us are ambitious rewriting of state statutes too complicated for most voters and tilted to benefit the private interests pushing it. Efforts to deregulate electricity markets and mandate the hiring of state architects and engineers are recent examples.

But while there are initiatives we don't like, they do not justify taking the initiative option away from citizens by setting the petition bar too high. Democracy is hurting in Massachusetts. Some 70 percent of legislators are elected every two years without opposition. The two-party system has shriveled as the number of Republican voters has shrunk.

Weakening the initiative process will eliminate an option for citizen participation that has served Massachusetts well. Legislators must resist that impulse.

A MetroWest Daily News editorial
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
The other amendments


Gay marriage may be the most highly charged issue of the day, but lawmakers also will grapple with a host of other controversial proposals when they meet in a constitutional convention tomorrow....

The convention, a joint session of the House and Senate, will take up nine calendar items besides the amendment that would ban gay marriage when it convenes at 2 p.m. in the House chamber at the Statehouse....

Another constitutional amendment, which would extend legislators' terms from two to four years, also has been taken up by previous constitutional conventions but has never passed.

It too could get a boost as legislators annoyed with the judicial branch seek to increase their own power.

A coalition of liberal and conservative groups is actively lobbying against a proposal that would limit the initiative petition process by dramatically increasing the number of signatures needed for a citizens' petition to get on the ballot.

Critics say the bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. Robert P. Spellane, D-Worcester, and state Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, would cripple the initiative system that brought about tax-limiting Proposition 2, among other well-known laws.

"The almost 90-year history of initiative petitions in Massachusetts suggests that the voters are up to the task of making judgments on proposals from across a wide ideological spectrum," Secretary of State William F. Galvin said in a statement yesterday. "It should not be made harder for people to put their proposals before the voters, and it should not be more confusing to do so."

The Telegram & Gazette
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Convention covers broad scope


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

For more information, go to:
CLT'S "SAVE DEMOCRACY PROJECT"

The constitutional convention is composed of all House and Senate members meeting jointly, this coming Wednesday. If you want to save the initiative petition process, you must contact your state senator and representative and instruct them to vote down Sen. Rosenberg's attempt to kill the process, S.362.

FIND YOUR STATE REP AND SENATOR

ALPHABETICAL LIST OF REPS AND SENATORS
BY CITY/TOWN

Or call and ask to speak to your state representative and senator
at (617) 722-2000.

Legislators are being buried with calls and e-mails addressing the gay marriage amendment, so you may run into difficulty getting through to your state rep or senator. You may have to keep calling or resending your messages until you reach them.


Beacon Hill is a madhouse with gay marriage amendment supporters and opponents swarming through the State House corridors. The chaos will continue through tomorrow, perhaps Thursday, and until the Constitutional Convention adjourns. Chip Faulkner will be up there this morning in front of the House chamber for an 11:00 new conference with other members of our Coalition to Protect Citizen Initiatives, if anyone there notices let alone attends. Breaking through the assembled confusion won't be easy.

But, as the MetroWest Daily News and Worcester Telegram & Gazette today pointed out, there are nine other proposed constitutional amendments to be voted on beginning tomorrow -- and they have slipped beneath the public's radar screen. That's the place where anything can happen while nobody's paying attention ... and right now few are.

It might be difficult reaching your state rep and senator, but they really need to hear from you on Sen. Rosenberg's attempt to kill the initiative petition process. If we ever lose that right, we'll have lost the most important political tool available to us citizens and we will find ourselves disarmed forever.

And if legislators amend the constitution to extend their terms to four years, nothing and nobody will ever defeat them. If they have four years instead of two to raise and stockpile campaign cash, who will ever be able to afford challenging them? Will voters ratify such an amendment to the constitution if it reaches the ballot in 2006.

Just remember their last constitutional amendment, a 1998 ballot question with the misleading title that promised it would prevent legislators from ever again voting themselves another pay raise. The voters fell for it, and now legislators have constitutionally-guaranteed automatic pay raises, forever!

And forever is a very long time.

Chip Ford


THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

THE PROCESS: 

Any amendment to the state constitution [initiated by the Legislature] must be approved by a majority of lawmakers during two successive two-year legislative sessions. If approved by the end of the 2003-2004 session, which ends in December, the ... amendment would have to be approved again during the 2005-2006 session before going on the ballot in November 2006.

THE VOTES:

During the constitutional convention, a joint session of the House and Senate -- currently a total of 199 lawmakers, with one vacancy -- will have to take two votes.

The first action, to send the amendment to a third reading, must be approved by a majority of members who are present and voting. All bills are given three readings, and sending a bill to a third reading is an initial step toward final passage.

The second action, to give the amendment final approval and send it on for further consideration during the 2005-2006 legislative session, must be approved by 101 members. This would be the threshold regardless of how many people are in the chamber or voting at the time.

This second action could not be taken on the same day as the first unless four-fifths of lawmakers agreed to waive the rules of the constitutional convention.

AMENDING THE AMENDMENT:

If lawmakers want to amend the amendment ... it could be done before the vote sending it to a third reading, or before the final vote. That would take a simple majority of those present and voting in the chamber.

THEN WHAT?

Any amendment to the state constitution must be approved by a majority of lawmakers during two successive two-year legislative sessions. If approved by the end of the current session, which ends in December, the marriage amendment would have to be approved again during the 2005-2006 session before going on the ballot.

The final step would place the proposal before voters no sooner than in 2006.

Source:  Senate Clerk's Office, MetroWest Daily News, and Boston Globe reports.


The MetroWest Daily News
Tuesday, February 10, 2004

A MetroWest Daily News editorial
The other amendments


Intense attention will be focused on Beacon Hill tomorrow as a constitutional convention convenes, and rightly so. On the agenda is a constitutional amendment designed to stop the expansion of civil rights for homosexual citizens short of the right to marry.

But the constitutional convention -- basically a joint session of the House and Senate convened for the sole purpose of considering amendments -- has more on its plate than gay marriage. There are 10 amendments up for consideration, seven of them scheduled for debate before the gay marriage amendment. It promises to be a long day on Beacon Hill.

All these amendments deserve more debate than they have received, especially outside the State House. One calls for abolishing the Governor's Council, a colonial artifact entrusted with approving judicial appointees. Though its members are elected, they are typically the most inside of insiders. There's no reason why the Senate can't serve the same advise-and-consent function as in the federal system.

Another calls for increasing the terms of state representatives and senators from two years to four years. A case can be made for increasing Senate terms, but the lack of competition for legislative seats argues against reducing the opportunities for elected officials to put their records before voters.

One amendment calls for requiring judges to face the voters every six years. While the uproar over the Supreme Judicial Court's gay marriage ruling may lend momentum to this perennial cause, we think it argues for keeping the current lifetime appointments. If we are to remain a state governed by laws, not fleeting public sentiment, judges must be free to make decisions based on a fair reading of the law, not the polls.

Another amendment proposes changes to the citizen initiative process that, while they seem minor, could have a major impact on political decisions to come. The amendment would raise dramatically the number of signatures needed to get an initiative on the ballot, from 65,825 to 99,316 for a statutory change and 119,182.

Collecting signatures is already the most difficult part of the citizen initiative process, so difficult that most organizations promoting ballot questions end up hiring signature-gatherers. Raising the bar even higher will discourage organizers with grassroots support while leaving the field open to deep-pockets interest groups that can buy their way onto the ballot.

The amendment would also remove responsibility for naming and summarizing initiatives from the Secretary of State's office and give it to a new board that, we fear, could politicize a process that should be technical and unbiased.

The amendment has support in the Legislature, where career politicians have long resented initiatives like Proposition 2 and the Clean Elections Law impinging on their prerogatives. Of greater concern to us are ambitious rewriting of state statutes too complicated for most voters and tilted to benefit the private interests pushing it. Efforts to deregulate electricity markets and mandate the hiring of state architects and engineers are recent examples.

But while there are initiatives we don't like, they do not justify taking the initiative option away from citizens by setting the petition bar too high. Democracy is hurting in Massachusetts. Some 70 percent of legislators are elected every two years without opposition. The two-party system has shriveled as the number of Republican voters has shrunk.

Weakening the initiative process will eliminate an option for citizen participation that has served Massachusetts well. Legislators must resist that impulse.

Return to top


The Telegram & Gazette
Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Convention covers broad scope
Shaun Sutner, T&G Staff


Gay marriage may be the most highly charged issue of the day, but lawmakers also will grapple with a host of other controversial proposals when they meet in a constitutional convention tomorrow.

Few observers expect a vote on the constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to between a man and a women to be delayed for long, but a roll call could be put off for a day or even a week as other matters are debated.

The convention, a joint session of the House and Senate, will take up nine calendar items besides the amendment that would ban gay marriage when it convenes at 2 p.m. in the House chamber at the Statehouse.

While some of the proposals are repeats from constitutional conventions of years past, they could also take on added significance this year because of their tie-in to the gay marriage measure.

With the Statehouse expected to be packed with activists on either side of the same-sex marriage issue, supporters and opponents of various amendments will have a prime, televised forum for their arguments.

"In the middle of all this it's going to be very difficult for legislators to focus on other issues, but there are some basic issues of government at stake," said Pamela P. Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, a good-government group.

Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, D-Boston, who presides over the session referred to as the "Con Con" by Statehouse insiders, has promised to allow all the measures to be debated and voted on, not only the gay marriage amendment.

Convention rules also require a two-thirds vote to take an item out of order, and the gay marriage ban is eighth out of 10 proposed amendments.

These conditions have given advocates for some of the other proposals hope that they will be allowed to be heard, even though it has been common for constitutional conventions over the years to be quickly gaveled to a close without debate.

That occurred in 1991, when an amendment sponsored by former Republican state Rep. David J. Lionett of Worcester to abolish the Governor's Council died after former Senate President William M. Bulger quickly adjourned a constitutional convention.

"They always have some way of getting rid of things," said Mr. Lionett, a financial consultant in Westboro.

As it turns out, one of the amendments on tomorrow's agenda calls for the abolition of the eight-member Governor's Council, which has approved the governor's judicial appointments and confirmed pardons since the Colonial era.

Another amendment that has been around before would change the system of selecting judges by making all judges elected by the public.

This proposal has failed in the Legislature many times, but it could get added backing from lawmakers angry at the state Supreme Judicial Court.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Nov. 18 that it is unconstitutional to bar gays and lesbians from civil marriage, leading many opponents to argue that the court overstepped its authority.

Another constitutional amendment, which would extend legislators' terms from two to four years, also has been taken up by previous constitutional conventions but has never passed.

It too could get a boost as legislators annoyed with the judicial branch seek to increase their own power.

A coalition of liberal and conservative groups is actively lobbying against a proposal that would limit the initiative petition process by dramatically increasing the number of signatures needed for a citizens' petition to get on the ballot.

Critics say the bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. Robert P. Spellane, D-Worcester, and state Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, would cripple the initiative system that brought about tax-limiting Proposition 2, among other well-known laws.

"The almost 90-year history of initiative petitions in Massachusetts suggests that the voters are up to the task of making judgments on proposals from across a wide ideological spectrum," Secretary of State William F. Galvin said in a statement yesterday. "It should not be made harder for people to put their proposals before the voters, and it should not be more confusing to do so."

Opponents of gay marriage, however, are convinced that nothing will stand in the way of a vote on the amendment to ban gay marriage, which is sponsored by state Rep. Philip Travis, D-Rehoboth, and co-sponsored by six Central Massachusetts lawmakers.

They argue that the advisory opinion issued by the Supreme Judicial Court last week reaffirming its November ruling has finally forced the issue to a head after a long period of uncertainty.

Many lawmakers, especially those who oppose gay marriage, wanted to vote on another amendment to ban same-sex unions last year. They did not get the chance because former Senate President Thomas R. Birmingham used a parliamentary maneuver to close the convention.

Last Tuesday's Supreme Judicial Court order declared that Vermont-style civil unions, which confer some of the benefits and rights of marriage to same-sex couples, would unconstitutionally deprive gays and lesbians of their civil rights.

Many lawmakers had previously held out hope that the Legislature could pass a civil union bill to comply with the Supreme Judicial Court ruling.

"There's a political reality here that part of the public's frustration is that no one's done the job of taking a vote," said state Rep. Mark J. Carron, D-Southbridge, a vocal foe of gay marriage. "Delaying it any further would be deemed ridiculous, immature and irresponsible."

Return to top


NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml


Return to CLT Updates page

Return to CLT home page