CLT Update
Friday, January 19, 2001

Coalition for Legislative Reform
announces 2001 agenda

From Barbara Anderson:

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!

Liberal groups are usually our opposition; they can't pass laws that interfere with our rights, or increase taxes. It's certain politicians who are the enemy, and the non-democratic legislative process, in which the people have no voice, is their weapon.

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
Globe Staff

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, he said.

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 Senate.

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 online;
  • Eliminating all or most outside sections, or riders attached to budgets often without any debate;
  • Limiting the range of business that may be conducted during lightly-attended informal sessions;
  • 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 pay;
  • 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 amendments.

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.

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