By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on roll calls from February 2. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
All these roll calls are on proposed new rules to a package of rules under which the House will operate for 2017-2018.
ALLOW VOTE ON TERM LIMITS FOR SPEAKER (H 2017)
House 123-33, upheld the decision of the acting speaker of the House, filling in for Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop), that a rule that would limit to eight the number of years the House speaker and minority leader can serve was beyond the scope of the rules package and should not be allowed on the floor for consideration by the full House. The rule would have made the limit on DeLeo retroactive to 2009 while the limit on GOP Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) would begin this year.
In 2009, the House voted to impose an 8-year term limit on the speaker. The House repealed that rule in 2015 and there are currently no term limits on serving as speaker. Speaker DeLeo was a champion of the 8-year limit when it was approved in 2009. In 2015, however, he said that his position on term limits has “evolved” during his 6-year tenure as speaker that began in 2009. “I wouldn’t say I’m going back on my word as much as the fact that over six years, rightly or wrongly, I feel I have learned in terms of what the importance is of doing away with the term limits we have in the rules,” said DeLeo at the time.
The elimination of the limit in 2015 allowed DeLeo to run again for speaker in the 2017-2018 session and beyond. If the term limit had remained in place, the 2015-2016 session would have been DeLeo’s last as speaker.
Supporters of banning consideration of the rule noted that adoption of it would create a vacancy in the speakership, which is not within the scope of a proposal establishing permanent House rules.
Opponents of the ban said that if the ban was reinstated, the House would simply follow current rules and declare the position vacant and hold an election for a new speaker. They asked why an amendment changing a House rule is not allowed during debate on adopting House rules.
Supporters of term limits said voting to approve the 8-year limit in 2009 and then voting to rescind it in 2015 was a step backwards and a complete flip-flop that lead to cynicism and mistrust among voters. They argued that term limits prevent anyone from becoming “Speaker for Life.” They noted that the indictments and convictions of the three prior speakers, Charlie Flaherty, Tom Finneran and Sal DiMasi, prove that too much power for too long is a problem.
Opponents of term limits said the restriction would make a speaker serving his final two years a lame duck. They argued that rank and file members should have the right to re-elect a current speaker or elect a new one. They said voters already can impose term limits when they vote at the polls.
Rep. Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman), the sponsor of the amendment, explained to Beacon Hill Roll Call why DeLeo’s ban is retroactive to 2009 and Jones’ ban is not. He noted that the retroactivity would allow DeLeo to remain true to his commitment to an 8-year term limit in 2009. He noted that Jones made no such commitment to term limit himself and he should have the chance to serve under the new conditions without retroactivity.
(A “Yes” vote is for the ruling of the chair banning the consideration of the proposed rule. A “No” vote is against the ruling of the chair and supports allowing the rule to be considered by the full House.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes Rep. Mike Connolly Yes Rep. Denise Provost Yes
ALLOW 24 HOURS TO READ LEGISLATION (H 2017)
House 35-124, rejected a proposed rule that would require 24-hour notice, not including weekends and holidays, between the release of a bill from an executive session or the Rules Committee and its consideration on the House floor. The 24-hour rule could be suspended for an emergency if waived by a two-thirds vote.
Supporters of the rule said this will prevent bills from being rushed onto the House floor and voted upon without legislators having time to read them. They cited the uproar in the U.S. Congress several years ago, when members were not given time to read the 1,000-page health care bill.
Opponents of the rule said it goes too far and that requiring 24-hour notice would make it very difficult for the Legislature to act during an emergency. They argued members usually are given sufficient time to read bills and in most cases, the bills have already received attention and press coverage.
(A “Yes” vote is for the rule requiring 24-hour notice. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Denise Provost No
LIMIT TOPICS AT INFORMAL SESSIONS (H 2017)
House 34-124, rejected a proposed rule that would allow only non-controversial bills to be considered during informal sessions. The amendment defines non-controversial as bills relating to the establishment of sick leave banks, granting of municipal liquor licenses, relating to a specific city or town or person that has received local approval, resolutions, or bills that have already been unanimously passed by the Senate and House in a formal session. Current rules allow many more types of amendments to be introduced at an informal session including any bills reported out by a committee, all bills sent from the Senate and all bills up for final approval.
Informal sessions are ones in which there can be no roll call votes and everything is approved or rejected on an unrecorded voice vote. However, at an informal session, a single legislator can hold up consideration of a bill until the next formal session by doubting the presence of a quorum. A quorum is when 81 members of the House are present. Since only a handful of legislators attend these sessions, the session would be adjourned for lack of a quorum.
Supporters of the rule said it is unfair to allow important legislation to be brought up at these lightly attended sessions. They pointed out that in December, the House and Senate, in an informal session, approved a delay in the implementation of the law allowing retail sales of marijuana.
Opponents said the rule is unnecessary because any single member who shows up at a lightly attended informal session can doubt the presence of a quorum at which point the session would end because there is not a quorum.
(A “Yes” vote is for further limiting the type of bill that can be brought up during an informal session. A “No” vote is against further limitations.)
Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Denise Provost No
REQUIRE ROLL CALL VOTES BY COMMITTEES (H 2017)
House 41-118, rejected a rule that would require that a roll call be held on all bills acted upon by House committees when the committee gives the measure a favorable or unfavorable report. Current rules only allow a committee member to request a roll call vote.
Supporters of the rule said this would make the House more transparent and ensure that constituents know how their representative voted in committee. They said giving members the option to ask for a roll call does not go far enough.
Opponents of the rule said the requirement that a roll call be held if requested by one person is sufficient and offers more flexibility.
“Yes” vote is for requiring a roll call vote. A “No” vote is against requiring it.)
Rep. Christine Barber No Rep. Mike Connolly No Rep. Denise Provost Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
PRESERVE RAPE EVIDENCE FOR 15 YEARS (H 4364) – In January, a new law that would require all rape kits to be kept for a minimum of 15 years and that rape victims be notified immediately of this law went into effect.
Prior law allowed the kits to be kept for 15 years but initially only required they be kept for six months unless the victim files a request for an extension.
Supporters said this long overdue change will empower rape victims and lead to more convictions.
“NON-EMERGENCY” VS. “NON-ESSENTIAL” STATE WORKERS – Gov. Charlie Baker announced last week that because of the storm, state offices would be closed one day for non-emergency executive branch state employees.
Up until a few years ago, governors often used the term “non-essential” employees. Those governors were often criticized and asked why “non-essential” employees were hired in the first place.
PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS – Several proposals to amend the state’s constitution have been filed for consideration in the 2017-2018 Legislature. Any proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by legislators needs the votes of a majority of the 200-member Legislature in the 2017-2018 session and the same in the 2019-2020 session in order to appear on the November 2020 ballot. Here are some of the proposals that are on the 2017-2018 agenda:
SPENDING MONEY FROM RAINY DAY FUND (S 15) – Requires a two-thirds instead of a majority vote of the Legislature in order to spend money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The fund is a stabilization fund established by the Legislature to ensure that money is put aside in case of an economic downturn. The money can only be spent to make up for revenue shortfalls or federal funding reductions and when events threaten the health, safety or welfare of citizens.
Supporters say that the two-thirds requirement would ensure that the money is used only when absolutely necessary. They note that the higher hurdle would make it difficult to raid the fund unless there is a real emergency and overwhelming legislative support.
Opponents say that a two-thirds requirement is too strict and nearly impossible to obtain. They noted that it only takes a majority vote to place money into the fund and argued that it should take the same margin to spend it.
REDISTRICTING COMMISSION (S 11) – Requires that the Legislature establish a seven-member redistricting commission to draw Massachusetts legislative and congressional districts every ten years. Currently, a redistricting commission is appointed by the House speaker and Senate president and is controlled by the majority party which is currently Democratic.
Commission members would include a college dean or professor of law, political science or government appointed by the governor; a retired judge appointed by the attorney general; and an expert in civil rights law appointed by the secretary of state. The other four members would be chosen by the first three members from a list of candidates nominated by the House speaker, House minority leader, Senate president and Senate minority leader.
The commission would submit a redistricting plan to the Legislature for an up or down vote. The proposal requires the commission to follow specific rules including ensuring that districts are compact and contiguous and are not drawn for the purpose of diluting the voting strength of a racial minority, political party or any individual candidate. The commission would also be required to follow other guidelines including preventing a city or town from being divided into more than one district.
Supporters say that the majority party in the Legislature is not impartial and often gerrymanders districts to protect incumbents. They note that this antiquated, partisan system allows the majority party to control the entire process and permits “legislators to choose their voters.”
Opponents say the commission would be comprised of unaccountable, unelected and unknown members who are not responsible to voters. They argued that elected, accountable members of the Legislature should be responsible for this important and tricky job of redistricting.
LIMIT JUDGE’S TERMS (S 13) – Limits the state’s judges to serving ten years on the bench, at which time they would be eligible for reappointment by the governor and approval by the Governor’s Council. Under current law, judges are appointed “for life” until they turn 70.
Supporters say it is nearly impossible to remove judges from the bench today.
Opponents say allowing judges to serve uninterrupted until age 70 keeps them above politics.
LIMIT EMINENT DOMAIN (S 14) – Prohibits private property from being taken by the government for private commercial enterprise, economic development or any other private use without the consent of the owner.
A similar measure was originally filed in 2008 as a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows communities to seize private homes and businesses solely for commercial purposes. The ruling also allows states to establish laws prohibiting the practice.
Supporters say it is important to protect landowners from these land grabs by the government.
Opponents say the proposal is too strict and ties the hands of the government in an emergency.
CORPORATIONS (H 63) – Declares that corporations are not people and do not have the same rights as individuals and that money is not free speech and may be regulated. The proposal is in response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In that decision, the court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting corporations, unions and individuals from donating unlimited funds to Super Political Action Committees (PACs) that do not donate directly to candidates or political parties.
The Super PACs are often run by a candidate’s former staffers or associates, who use the PAC to fund negative ads against the candidate’s opponents. A candidate’s own committee’s contributions are limited by federal law but Super PACs can legally accept unlimited donations.
Supporters of removing the ban say this ruling has allowed unlimited money from corporations to drown out other voices and have an undue influence on the outcome of elections. They argue that the idea that corporations are people and money is free speech is absurd.
Opponents of removing the ban say they support the Supreme Court decision and argued any restriction on donations is prohibited by the First Amendment. They argued that arbitrary donation limits would prevent information from reaching the public.
LIMIT CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS (H 65) – Prohibits initiative petitions from proposing a constitutional amendment that would restrict the constitutional right to freedom and equality, or the right of each individual to be protected by society in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property.
Supporters say that this would ensure that amendments banning same-sex marriage, transgender rights and other equal rights would not become part of the constitution.
APPOINT A LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR (H 64) – Gives the power to the governor to appoint a lieutenant governor if that office becomes vacant by death, resignation, removal from office or permanent incapacity. The governor’s choice would be subject to the confirmation by a majority vote of both the House and Senate. Current law leaves the office vacant until the next election.
Supporters say it is unfair to leave this office vacant and note there are already existing provisions to fill vacancies in other statewide constitutional offices.
“It is my desire to do something. It is doubtful we could restore everything in full but at the very least I’d like to see us at least make partial restoration.”
House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) on the question of whether the Legislature will move to restore some $98 million in budget cuts made by Gov. Baker in December.
“Just weeks after overriding Governor Baker’s veto and boosting their own pay by $18 million, hypocritical Beacon Hill Democrats have conceded there is no money to fund services they called ‘very, very critical.’ After their breathless criticism of Governor Baker’s fiscally responsible efforts to balance the budget, Beacon Hill Democrats have exposed their true priorities”.
Kirsten Hughes, chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party.
“It is outrageous that hard working Massachusetts residents are expected to pay their fair share of taxes while some major corporations are able to skirt their obligations through the use of murky offshore tax loopholes that a phalanx of lobbyists, year in and year out, protect for special interests.”
Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) on filing a bill to close a loophole which allows corporations to hide profits earned in Massachusetts in offshore accounts.
“You can’t prevent children from being born by telling them that if a child is born it will be hungry and sick. The family cap doesn’t prevent children, it prevents their chances of growing up healthy.”
Dr. Deborah Frank, Director of the Grow for Children Clinic at Boston Medical Center, on Cambridge Rep. Marjorie Decker’s bill that would remove a welfare benefit cap for children conceived while a family is receiving assistance.
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 February 6-10, the House met for a total of three hours and 21 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 18 minutes.
Mon. February 6 House 11:08 a.m. to 2:01 p.m.
Senate 11:06 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.
Tues. February 7 No House session
No Senate session
Wed. February 8 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:20 a.m.
No Senate session
Thurs. February 9 No House session
No Senate session
Fri. February 10 House 11:02 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Senate 11:06 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org