Wednesday, the House must pass strong transparency reforms
Posted on 23 Feb 2021
Earlier this month, the State Senate passed a version of rules that took a big step forward for state house transparency by including almost everything we’ve been asking for in our 1st point of the Transparency is Power campaign. The Senate rules would make all joint committee votes publicly available on the State House Website & made all testimony made to committees available to the public. You would be able to see, on the bill page, a simple easy-to-understand grid that lets you know how all the individuals on a committee voted (see example below).
The Senate sent its version of the rules to the House last week for a vote this Wednesday. Over the weekend and early this week, the House reviewed and stripped out most of the transparency measures in the Senate version, introducing a bill that is much weaker in a number of key ways:
- The House version wouldn’t publish a full record of committee votes. Instead, they are proposing to list on the legislature’s website the aggregate total of members who voted yes, didn’t vote, and reserved their rights (think “abstained”). And they would only publish the names of legislators who voted no.
- The House version completely strikes the requirement to make testimony publicly available. The Senate had included provisions to allow the committee to redact sensitive personal information, information that could jeopardize the health or safety of a person.
- The House rejected a provision added by the Senate to provide a full week of notice to the public before committee hearings are held. Currently there’s only a 3 day notice period required.
This is disappointing. Thousands of voters all across the state have gotten involved in our Transparency is Power campaign because they believe we should have a simple, easy-to-understand grid showing how each member of committees voted on important legislation, and that testimony should be public.
But we have a chance to change that. Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven has agreed to file an amendment which would restore the excellent language of the Senate and clarify that all votes to send bills to study should also be included. (Approximately half of all bills in the legislature are sent to study each session. We deserve to know how our Reps are voting on all bills, not just half)
What we want is simple. We want this easy to read, screen-reader friendly table that shows how our Reps vote on the page of every bill after it’s voted on in committee. This is not asking a lot. There’s no good reason for the House to be offering up convoluted solutions like aggregate vote totals.
Just show us the votes.
(below, we breakdown all the changes the House made vs. Senate)
Specific Changes that were made by the House
1. Removed the language that the Senate added in Rule 1 to create a process for dealing with committees that fail to create their own rules
2. Changed rule 1C remove the word “polls” and change the date from April to June
3. Top of Rule 1D, introduced a typo & added “subject to joint rule 1a” (i’m unclear what this does)
4. Middle of Rule 1D: Removed senate provisions for roll call votes and replaced with meaningless aggregate tallies. Also strips the language Senate added requiring 1 week notice for hearings and move it back to 72 hours
5. Bottom Rule 1D: Removes public testimony language entirely (and removes the 1 week notice period for hearings in another place
6. Joint Rule 4: Unclear what they are doing. Something with Ways & Means
7. Rule 4: Possibly a positive change the House introduced? Seems to avoid parliamentary snafus like happened with a bill last year where senate/house had versions that didn’t “talk” to each other. Still seems to allow reporting of any different language
8. Rule 7C. Wordsmithing? Legal reason? They removed gender neutral language why?
9. Rule 26C Removes the requirement for special sessions to be called during recess of the general court. Neutral/positive? Why?
10. Deleted last part of last rule. Seems bad