As public interest groups, the members of the Coalition for Legislative Reform
disagree--often quite vociferously--about many issues. But we also share several
things in common:
• We believe that if we could make our case to legislators who are free of
excessive influence, our viewpoints would have a fairer hearing.
• We believe the Legislative process should be open to input and scrutiny.
• We believe the Legislative process should not be controlled by any group or
Therefore, we have joined together to promote greater transparency,
accountability, and credibility. Our effort will extend over the next legislative
session, as we:
• demand enforcement of existing rules;
• call for the modification of a few key processes; and
• monitor progress toward reform.
In 1983, the last time a major legislative reform effort was undertaken, more than
60,000 voters signed an initiative petition calling for changes on Beacon Hill.
Although the courts scuttled direct implementation of those reforms, many of them
were gradually incorporated into the operations of the Legislature. At the
time, the Coalition for legislative Reform deplored "the inordinate concentration of
power now in the hands of top leadership" and called for a legislature "in which a
our state legislators have an opportunity to shape the laws of the Commonwealth."
In 1999, legislators from across the political spectrum issued a report calling
for changes to "dispel the image of secretive and devious proceedings." They
called for "more open and informed debate" and a solution to "problems relating to
adherence to the rules." Then came the infamous "Animal House" session of April,
2000. Once again, a group of legislators called for substantive changes in the way
the Legislature operates. Prompted by the outcry, the Speaker appointed a committee to recommend changes in the
budget process. Their proposal, while useful, is limited in scope and impact. It would create a more
orderly queue for the budget debate, but would not stem the flow of unrelated proposals, or open up
the rest of the legislative process.
Other suggestions (such as changes in the selection of committee chairs and the
scheduling of hearings and formal sessions) may arise in the weeks ahead. The
House and Senate could appoint a joint committee (including experienced reformers)
to consider broader changes to the legislative process. The Coalition will
consider such proposals and their overall effect, and will append or modify this
Whatever the final shape of the reform, we reiterate our commitment to
comprehensive reform that opens all of the legislative channels, rather than a
selective implementation of changes to close down the few avenues now available
for action. We oppose piecemeal "reform" efforts that produce the exact opposite
effect by consolidating power and opening new loopholes. Additionally, our efforts
will apply to differing extents to the House and Senate.
Taken as a whole, our proposal outlines a rules reform agenda that would promote
greater transparency, accountability, and credibility.
• All avenues of the legislative process must be open and available
-- from committees to floor votes. legislative committees should be empowered to do their
jobs, and do them publicly. The legislative agenda (and the budget) should flow
from work done by the appropriate committees, which should hold public hearings,
debates, and votes. This process should include adequate public notice well in
advance and on-line, with the text of bills and amendments made available to in
advance of votes being taken. Further, bills should be acted on or moved out of
the Rules, Ways & Means, Third Reading, and Steering & Policy committees within a
reasonable time frame-say, 30-60 days. Requiring the clerk to put bills on the
calendar a set number of days after their release from committees would make this
process "automatic." Example: The paucity of bills actually brought to the floor
for debate and vote.
• Make roll-call votes, bills, amendments, budget documents, and schedules for an
meetings and hearings available in a timely manner, and on-line. Agendas and
schedules for all sessions (and committee meetings) should be available to
members, the press, the public, and on-line at least 24 (if not more) hours in
advance. Votes in committees, testimony, and other records from committee proceedings should be
available on-line as soon as feasible. Changes to proposed legislative amendments must be germane to the
original amendment, and the text of altered amendments should be made available to members, the media,
and interested parties prior to voting. Advances in technology make it possible to have
information available almost instantaneously to promote informed debate and
voting. The Senate has put much of this information on-line, the House should
follow suit. Example: Too often, legislators and advocates alike are unaware of
important events and votes, and often act on incomplete information.
• Present the budget by the end of March in a comprehensible format. Further, the
budget process should be outlined beforehand, with a time frame and deadlines
posted well in advance. That time frame, including the time the budget spends in
conference committee, the Governor's office, and in the Legislature for overrides,
should be known and respected. The recent ban on late-night sessions is a step in
the right direction, eliminating all or most outside sections would continue
progress. Finally, the budget format-beginning with the Governor's presentation
should lay out information as clearly as possible so that relevant year-to-year
comparisons are possible. Example: Last year, more items were passed in seven
days as outside sections than were passed as laws (498 to 261).
• Ban outside sections to the budget, or severely restrict the definition. The
budget is not the place to rewrite laws. Outside sections have distorted the
legislative process because they have become one of the few avenues for action.
Thls further undermines committees and the openness of a regular legislative
process, and further diminishes opportunities for public input, informed debate,
and recorded votes. In addition the inclusion of items unrelated to the budget or
so sweeping and controversial as to deserve fuller consideration diminishes
legislative credibility. The constitutional prohibition on passing laws not
germane to the budget should be upheld. Examples: From MBTA funding to changes in
the public integrity laws, outside sections have become dumping grounds for all
manner of non-budget specific items.
• Strictly limit what is done in informal sessions. We have a full-time
Legislature. If informal sessions must be held, controversial items should not be
slipped through when many members are not present -- or unaware of what is under
discussion. A small number of members (say, 10-20) should be able not only to
call for a vote, but to recall within a reasonable time frame any item passed in
informal session for full debate and recorded vote (this could be accomplished,
for example, by delaying for 48 hours before sending items passed in informal
session to the Senate). Examples: Changes two years ago to the campaign finance
laws; last years proposed Constitutional change on school funding, both passed off
the agenda in informal session.
• Suspend the rules only under extraordinary circumstances. No rule change will
have an impact if the rules are routinely ignored. Like outside sections and
informal sessions, rules suspensions have made the extraordinary commonplace, and
devalued the legislative process. Example: According to one report, between
September 2 and November 10 of 1999, House rules were suspended 113 times for
• The public integrity laws should be altered only to better serve the public, not
to benefit any private interests. If the ethics, disclosure, lobbying, and other
public integrity laws need changing, there should be a full review by the appropriate committees, and public input from the people, the Attorney General,
the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the appropriate state agencies, concerned
public interest groups, and others, before any legislation goes forward. Example:
Last year's attempt, via outside section, to open a loophole in the lobbyist
• Laws passed by ballot initiative should have the opportunity to prove themselves
before being altered substantially. Although laws passed by the initiative process
may not meet approval of the Legislature, the will of the voters should be
respected. Example: Numerous attempts, often via outside section, to undermine the
Clean Elections Law.
• The salary schedule should be respected. The salary of legislators was set by
Constitutional amendment in 1998. Adding additional salary for some creates the
potential for undue influence by leadership and lobbyists. The Legislature should
not invent new "leadership" positions, compensation formulae or methods, and/or
additional forms of recompense. Example: Last year's doubling of the stipend and
the attempt to create new leadership posts, both via outside section.
• The Speaker and Senate President's terms should remain limited to eight years.
The present system promotes openness and allows for power to change hands regularly. Example: Rumors of an additional
extension of the Speaker's term.
• No proxy voting. Example: Last year's budget debate.