By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
A big topic of discussion last week in the Bay State and across the nation was whether the president of the United States should be elected by popular vote or through the current Electoral College system. Last week, U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proposed constitutional amendments in Congress that would abolish the Electoral College.
The president and vice president are not actually elected directly by the voters but rather by “electors” who are elected by popular vote from each state. There are 538 electors with each state assigned electoral votes equal to the number of its members of Congress. The 538 electors, correspond to the 435 representatives, the 100 senators, plus three electors for the District of Columbia. Electors are chosen by political parties and pledge to vote for the winner of the state’s popular vote. The candidate who wins 270 or more electoral votes wins the presidency.
Current results from this year give Donald Trump 290 electoral votes and Hillary Clinton 232. Michigan has not yet completed its tally so it is not certain where those 16 electoral votes will go. In the popular vote, although official results have not been announced, Clinton by most counts seems to be ahead of Trump at this point by anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 million votes.
One of the key roadblocks to abolishing the Electoral College is that it would require a constitutional amendment that is either proposed by two-thirds of each house of Congress or by a constitutional convention that would be called if 34 states requested it. In both cases, the proposed amendment would then have to be ratified by 38 states to become part of the Constitution. Both avenues are difficult, at best.
Along comes Fair Vote, a group with the goal of electing the president by popular vote without abolishing the Electoral College but rather by creation of an unusual pact between the states.
The Bay State in 2010 joined this pact — the Agreement among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote. It would require states that join the pact to cast all their electoral votes for the presidential candidate who wins a majority of the national popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The pact would become effective when states representing at least 270 electoral votes — a majority of the 538-vote Electoral College — join the pact. It is an attempt at an end-run around the Constitution.
The House 114-35 and the Senate 28-9, approved the measure in July 2010 and it was signed into law in August 2010 by former Gov. Deval Patrick.
Every four years there is talk nationally about abolishing the Electoral College and electing the president based on the national popular vote. The talk intensifies each time a candidate who wins the popular vote loses the election. This has occurred five times in history — the most two recent being this year and in 2000 when Al Gore won 543,895 more popular votes than George W. Bush but was beaten by Bush in the Electoral College by a razor thin 271 to 266 margin. In the end, it was the recount in Florida in which Bush beat Gore by 537 votes that decided the race. The three other races in which this occurred were in 1824, 1876, and 1888.
Supporters of the pact say the law will pass constitutional muster because the U.S. Constitution gives the states exclusive and complete power to determine how to allocate their electoral votes. Opponents argue that the Compact Clause of the Constitution requires congressional approval of the pact before it could take effect. The pact would likely be challenged in the courts if and when it has enough states to guarantee 270 electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote.
According to Fair Vote’s website, the pact has been signed into law in the District of Columbia and ten states possessing 165 electoral votes — 61 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate the legislation. The states include California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York. Rhode Island, Washington State and Vermont. Only the approval of additional states with a total of 105 more electoral votes is needed before the measure goes into effect.
Supporters of the pact say the Electoral College is an antiquated system that is inherently undemocratic and gives voters in states with large numbers of electoral votes more voting power than those in other states. They argue the system was designed by the framers because they did not trust the common citizen to vote correctly and wanted a fail-safe method to overturn the voters. They note that presidential candidates now concentrate on and campaign in a handful of swing states while ignoring most of the states that are already solidly Democratic or Republican.
Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick) supports the law because he believes that every vote in every state should be equal. “The principle is simple: the vote of every person should count the same,” Linsky said. “By eliminating the arcane Electoral College system, we can achieve a more fair and functioning democracy.”
“The Electoral College is an undemocratic twenty-first-century anachronism,” said Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington). “It was adopted in the eighteenth century as part of the political compromise between large and small states as this country was experimenting with nation-building.”
Some opponents say that the Electoral College is a good system that has worked well and should not be changed. They argue it gives voters in smaller states power that they would not have if the president was elected strictly by a popular vote system in which candidates would concentrate on states with larger populations.
Some argue that electing the president by popular vote would give wealthy and fringe candidates a chance at success by focusing their efforts in a few major urban centers. Others said that the switch to a popular vote is a very serious issue that needs more study. Others argue that the Constitution provides no guidance on the ground rules for a convention which could cause all kinds of problems. They also say that a convention would not necessarily be limited to the Electoral College amendment and note that many amendments on several other topics could be considered.
“I voted against the National Popular Vote compact in 2010 because it represents an end-run around the Constitution,” said Rep. Brad Jones (R-North Reading). “The Electoral College was created to ensure that presidential candidates have true, broad-based, national appeal among voters of various socioeconomic backgrounds, living in both urban and rural areas. Under the compact, the 11 most populous states could single-handedly decide the outcome of a national election, depriving smaller states of a role in the process.”
Rep. Paul Frost (R-Auburn) said that if the system is going to change it should be through the process of changing the U.S. Constitution, not a clever workaround. “The compact of states is weak and subject to political gamesmanship,” said Frost. “Even if a state joins like Massachusetts did, nothing stops a state from leaving the compact if the party in charge of the state legislature doesn’t think the compact works for their party’s candidate for president that year. They have until June of that election year to opt out.”
ELECT PRESIDENT BY POPULAR VOTE
Here is how local senators and representatives voted in 2010 on whether Massachusetts should join the Agreement among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote.
The pact was approved by the House 114-35 and the Senate 28-9. It was signed into law by former Gov. Deval Patrick.
(A “Yes” vote is for joining. A “No” vote is against joining.)
Rep. Christine Barber Was not yet elected Rep. Denise Provost Yes Rep. Timothy Toomey Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
REQUIRE INSURERS TO COVER LIPODYSTROPHY (S 2137) – A new law that took effect on November 8 requires insurance companies to provide coverage for the treatment of lipodystrophy, a medical condition that can cause abnormal fat accumulation around the head and neck or excessive fat loss in the face and limbs.
Lipodystrophy is associated with frequent injections at the same point on the body, such as injections of insulin, and it can be a side effect of the antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV.
Supporters say this requirement would help improve the lives of many people afflicted with this condition. They argue that fat accumulation from lipodystrophy sometimes causes serious head and neck pain, the inability to sleep and posture issues. They note that excessive fat loss can result in “facial wasting,” a clear sign to others that an individual has HIV. They say that many insurance companies currently deny coverage for this treatment and that some falsely describe the treatment as cosmetic surgery.
ALLOW TOWING FROM “PARK AND DRIVE” LOTS (S 2452) – A law that allows operators of state-owned “Park and Drive” parking lots to tow any car that is left unattended in the lot for more than 21 days took effect on November 16.
Supporters say that drivers are taking advantage of these free parking lots and taking up spaces to which commuters should have access. They note some drivers fly out on vacation and leave their vehicle there for several days. They noted some drivers have even left their car there and gone to Florida for the winter.
BAN DISCRIMINATION IN ORGAN TRANSPLANTS (H 4332) – The House and Senate approved and sent to the governor a proposal prohibiting consideration of a patient’s intellectual or physical disability when determining who is eligible for an organ transplant and who should be highest on the waiting list. The measure allows the disability to be considered only if it is determined to be medically significant in a negative way to the transplant.
Supporters said a survey of nearly 90 transplant centers revealed that 85 percent of pediatric transplant centers have at least once considered intellectual or physical disability when determining eligibility for a transplant. They argued it is long past time to end this discrimination.
ADULT MALNUTRITION COMMISSION (S 2499) – The House and Senate approved and sent to the governor legislation establishing a 15-member commission on malnutrition prevention among older adults. The commission would send its report and recommendations to the legislature by December 31.
MBTA HAS UNCOLLECTED BILLS – An audit of the MBTA from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2015 by State Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office found that the MBTA has $1,863,103 in uncollected accounts receivable for which it has not been paid. Half of those are more than a decade past due.
“Our audit found the MBTA, an agency with chronic management and funding challenges, was not properly collecting outstanding balances, and was leaving unpaid balances on their books for an extended period of time,” Bump said. “The MBTA should take all appropriate steps to collect funds that are due to the agency, but should also realistically write-off balances that are not likely to be recouped.”
MBTA Director of Communications Joe Pesaturo responded, “Since last year, the MBTA has been actively working to reform its finances and operations to improve the reliability of the system for riders and taxpayers, correcting bad practices and closely examining all contracts to identify millions of dollars in savings opportunities. By taking steps to renegotiate prices with vendors, enforce contractual obligations, move purchases to existing statewide contractors and eliminate cash vouchers, the MBTA has already identified nearly $11 million in savings over the next two years.”
MONEY FOR AIDS AND HEPATITIS (H 3960) – The House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that expands the use of a fund currently used for AIDS prevention and reduction efforts. The bill would allow the money to also be used on programs for HIV or viral hepatitis prevention and treatment. The funds are from revenue voluntarily paid by taxpayers using a checkoff system on their income tax return and from private sources including gifts, grants and donations.
“The key to reducing the death rate for people reported with HIV/AIDS is ensuring that those already diagnosed remain engaged in care and targeting those at high risk,” said Rep. Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg), the chief sponsor of the measure. “The Department of Public Health is already doing a commendable job combatting this disease … [this] will simply allow for the Department to enhance those services and expand research.”
“I’ve certainly known Scott for a long time and he’s got over 20 years in military service as a citizen soldier, obviously a career here as a state legislator and as a U.S. senator and I certainly think he would be a worthy and worthwhile candidate.”
Gov. Baker on former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s possible role heading up the Department of Veterans Affairs in a Trump Administration. Brown met with Trump last week.
“It is through the Courts that the Rule of Law is enforced, so that all of us, regardless of our station in life, are able to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is the Rule of Law which stands between order and chaos.”
Kimberly Budd following her swearing in as an Associate Justice of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.
“2016 is going to be the hottest year in human history. We know why: pollution from burning coal, oil and gas is driving global warming. The longer we keep burning dirty fuels, the worse this problem is going to get.”
Sharon Solomon, Global Warming Solutions Campaign Organizer, calling for the Bay State and other states to set stronger pollution reduction goals.
“Boston is ready to lead the charge on self-driving vehicles, and …… I am committed to ensuring autonomous vehicles will benefit Boston’s residents. This is an exciting step forward, and together with our public and private partners, we will continue to lead the way in creating a safe, reliable and equitable mobility plan for Boston’s residents.”
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on the testing of driverless vehicles, set to begin soon in the Boston.
“Not only is Plainridge Casino falling far short of the job creation promises made to the people of the state, but the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has not acted to ensure they meet their commitments.”
State Auditor Suzanne Bump following her office’s audit of the Plainridge Casino.
“The property continues to work aggressively in our surrounding communities through job fairs, advertising, hiring preferences, our work with community colleges continues. We acknowledge that the local hiring goal is ambitious at 90 percent, no doubt about it, particularly in a region that has a very low unemployment rate.”
Plainridge Park General Manager Lance George responding to the audit.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.
During the week of November 21-25, the House met for a total of 32 minutes while the Senate met for a total of 34 minutes.
Mon. November 21 House 11:06 a.m. to 11:24 a.m.
Senate 11:07 a.m. to 11:25 a.m.
Tues. November 22 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. November 23 House 11:03 a.m. to 11:17 a.m.
Senate 11:05 a.m. to 11:21 a.m.
Thurs. November 24 No House session
No Senate session
Fri. November 25 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org