The Coalition for Legislative Reform kicked off its campaign
yesterday at the State House. Most of the proposed reforms were previewed in our January newsletter [now also available on our
website], and one of them, the prohibition on having major legislation attached to the state budget document, was
supported by Governor Cellucci in his state-of-the-state address Wednesday night.
Now try to keep calm when you see who the other members of
the Coalition are.
It's like the line on West Wing two weeks ago, when someone
explained that to a House Democrat, Republicans are the opposition, not the enemy: the enemy is the Senate!
A full list of proposed reforms will be on web site soon,
but the State House News Service report [below] pretty much covers them.
We plan to have fun with this, issuing traffic tickets to
legislators who oppose an open, democratic process. For example: if our Voluntary Optional Tax Endowment check-off bill
doesn't make it to the floor for a roll call vote, we can issue a ticket to the
committee chair who bottles it up, etc. Last year, if we'd been doing this, we could have issued a ticket to
the House for not taking up our initiative petition for the rollback by the first Wednesday in May, forcing us to collect
more signatures. And for those of you who were with us on term limits, we could have issued a ticket to the Senate President
for not taking it up in the constitutional convention.
We will make a picture for the media and the public, of what
goes wrong with the process and why you have outrageous "Animal House" budget sessions where they spend $22 billion dollars in
a few days and nights, without many of them even knowing what they are voting on.
The Boston Globe
Friday, January 19, 2001
Reform coalition to cite legislators in back-room deals
By Rick Klein
Seeking to embarrass lawmakers who engage in backroom deals,
an unusual coalition of groups from the League of Women Voters to Citizens for Limited Taxation vowed yesterday
to issue "traffic tickets" and public scoldings to legislators who try to sneak measures through
or attach pet projects to the budget.
As the Legislature gets underway next week, the Coalition
for Legislative Reform is calling for a number of changes to the way the House and Senate work, including a ban on the kinds
of measures that can be taken up during informal sessions and a demand that lawmakers
conduct their business during the light of day.
Amid reports that House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran is
considering eliminating the eight-year limit on how long he can serve, the coalition is also demanding that term limits
remain for the House speaker and Senate president.
"What we need is a democratic movement in the Legislature,"
said Eric Weltman, organizing director for Citizens for Participation in Political Action, one of nine groups
supporting the proposal. "Rules reform is necessary to ensure that all the Commonwealth's voters are
represented in the State House."
The groups will issue periodic "traffic reports" -- as well
as citations and commendations -- to attract attention to lawmakers who are working both for and against a more open
democracy, said Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.
After an uproar last session over chants of "toga" and
reports of drinking during budget debate, the House is expected to consider changes next week in the way it operates.
But a committee named by Finneran will call for only a few
minor changes, such as limiting meeting times. It will also recommend naming a more formal joint committee to study
"outside sections," the nonfinancial riders frequently attached to the annual budget as a way
of circumventing the public hearing and scrutiny of bills.
Weltman said legislative leaders route too much of the
state's important business through the budget. Last year, almost twice as many items were passed as outside budget
sections than were passed as laws, said Ken White, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts.
The coalition is also seeking to stop bills from becoming
trapped in committees, make the budget easier to comprehend, and ensure that laws passed by ballot initiatives go into
effect before the Legislature has a chance to change them substantially.
Most of the proposals could be enacted as internal rules
reforms, and many of them have been proposed piecemeal at different times, White said. In some cases -- such as the
reforms regarding informal session, where only noncontroversial items are supposed to be
discussed -- the Legislature would only have to start following its current rules more strictly,
Despite their ambitions, the coalition has failed to attract
even one lawmaker to sign on to the package of changes. White said lawmakers are being contacted now.
Representative George N. Peterson Jr., a Grafton Republican
who has backed rules reform in the past, said the current system in the House is flawed in several respects, but said he
was not optimistic that it will change.
"We haven't had any debate in the House over the last couple
of years," Peterson said. "The key thing is just enforcing the rules we have now. That's incumbent upon the members."
State House News Service
Thursday, January 18, 2001
Rules reformers will issue "traffic reports"
to raise public awareness
By Michael P. Norton
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 18, 2001 ... Reform-minded activists this year will issue
citations to legislators who they feel are blocking the flow of bills on Beacon Hill, while
bestowing awards upon those who work to decentralize the power bases in the House and
Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT) Director Barbara Anderson said the new traffic reports
will make the traditionally dry topic of rules reform more compelling. CLT
has formally joined seven other public interest groups that have decided to make rules reforms a top
priority as a new legislative session begins on Beacon Hill.
"I think we'll make this an interesting issue," Anderson said. "Taxpayers are better off with an
open, accountable process. We'll let them know if their representatives pass or
fail the democracy test."
The groups have formed the Coalition for Legislative Reform, which hopes to wipe out
"roadblocks" that activists say are forcing House and Senate members to abandon the
traditional bill-based route of lawmaking in favor of a confusing process
that requires the annual state budget to be loaded up with hundreds of "outside sections."
In some ways, the coalition's goals -- preventing the legislative process from being controlled
by individuals and groups -- conflict with the natural setup of legislative
bodies, where the majority party, under the leadership of the presiding officer it elects, typically sets the policy
agenda and decides which issues to raise for debates and votes.
Among the proposals on the coalition's agenda are several already contained in the
leadership's package of changes:
- Requiring committees to release bills in a more timely fashion;
- Public disclosure and better scheduling of public meetings, hearings and executive sessions;
- Making roll call votes, the text of bills and amendments, and legislative schedules available
- Eliminating all or most outside sections, or riders attached to budgets often without any
- Limiting the range of business that may be conducted during lightly-attended informal
- More thorough review of any changes proposed to ethics, disclosure or lobbying laws;
- Implementation, without interference, of laws passed by voters via initiative petition;
- Curbing the practice of continually creating special leadership posts that come with extra
- Banning proxy voting.
The activists were not joined at their press conference by any legislators interested in
advancing their slate of reforms, but maintained that there is growing support among
legislators for changes intended to empower individual lawmakers and make
the legislative process easier to understand and follow for ordinary citizens.
Offered moments after the Senate finished its biennial rules debate, the reforms were
presented too late for inclusion in that branch's discussion of operations. During that short
debate, senators adopted a package of amendments aimed at speeding the Upper Branch's
progress down the Information Superhighway. The new rules require every senator to have
an email address, bills and orders to be filed electronically with the clerks, online bill texts,
live webcasting of formal Senate sessions, and the electronic filing and posting of budget
Coalition members plan to push their plans during House rules debate and the
as-yet-unscheduled joint rules debate.
Coalition members support rules and budget process changes recommended by a special
commission appointed by House Speaker Thomas Finneran, but say the reforms should
delve deeper. One change, they say, doesn't involve any new rules -- coalition
members say the Legislature can improve its operations simply by agreeing to obey its existing rules. As it
is, said Anderson, rules are "suspended so often that it's hardly worth having them anymore."
Marilyn Segal, legislative director for the American Jewish Congress, said visitors and even
State House regulars have trouble understanding the "mumbling" of legislative business
during frequent informal House and Senate sessions. During one such recent session, Segal said she
was trying to follow the progress of a measure exempting a new state education
accountability office from the public records law. Segal said the lack of debate, difficulty
hearing the presiding officer and changes in bill titles, amendments and numbers made her job
tough. She was even more surprised and disheartened when she couldn't find any lawmakers
aware of the education-related budget rider.
Janet Domenitz, director of MASSPIRG, said the controversy over the presidential election
has heightened public interest in government operations. "We feel that democracy can and
should work better here as well," Domenitz said, calling for changes that make the lawmaking
process "more transparent, more credible."
Eric Weltman, organizing director at Citizens for Participation in Political Action, said a more
open process would have led to House votes last year on Senate-passed bills
affecting gay rights, state spending on housing initiatives, and access to contraception. "What we need is a
democracy movement in the Legislature," said Weltman.
The groups behind the reforms include the American Jewish Congress; Citizens for Limited
Taxation; CPPAX; Gay, Lesbian Bisexual and Transgendered Alliance; League of Women
Voters of Mass.; Mass. Audubon, MASSPIRG and the National Organization for Women.