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House Kills Rules Reform

Secret meetings, avoidance of public hearings, backroom dealmaking, surprise amendments, and suppression of debate . . .These are some of the things that have become standard operating practice for the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Reform groups have been pressing for reform of the House for several years. And on January 8 and 9 of this year, a handful of reform-minded representatives led by Rep. Byron Rushing and Rep. Bradley Jones proposed rules reforms that would improve the situation by promoting a more democratic process in the House. None of their reforms came close to passing. In fact, according to Common Cause of Massachusetts, Democratic Party legislative leader Thomas Finneran passed his own rules changes that actually strengthened his grip upon the chamber.

In an all too familiar tactic, Finneran did not release his own rules proposals until 24 hours before the debate was to begin. This surprise tactic is commonly used by the Democratic leadership to permit offensive measures to be slipped past before a public outcry can arise.

Many of the more significant reforms never even came to a vote. Here are some that were at least voted upon:

Defeated 22 to 130 – A proposal to require posting of the House calendar on the world wide web.

Defeated 44 to 106 – A proposal to reinstate a non-retroactive eight year term limit for the office of House Speaker

Defeated 44 to 108: A proposal to allow a majority (rather than 2/3) of members voting to amend orders from the Rules Committee.

Defeated 36 to 115: An amendment to limit the power of the Steering and Policy Committee to bottle up legislation the Speaker dislikes.

On the four tabulated votes, Democratic Party incumbents voted against reform 84% of the time. Republicans, hoping to loosen the Democratic stranglehold on the legislative agenda, voted against reform only 6% of the time. The lone independent in the House, Rep. William Lantigua, cast all four of his votes for rules reform.

To find out how your representative voted, check out the rules reform voting chart provided by Common Cause.

  

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