Is This What Democracy Looks Like?
February 28, 2019
A Letter to the Editors,
I have been shocked to learn how much is done in secret in our Massachusetts House of Representatives, and how difficult it is to learn why a bill with overwhelming support never makes it to a vote on the House floor, or who to hold accountable.
Even more shocking is that legislators themselves have little control over what happens behind closed doors (unless they happen to have cultivated the sort of loyalty that entitles them to become part of the leadership). They do not know the details of committee votes that determine whether bills are advanced or not, they have only 24 hours to actually read bills that do come up for a vote, and no time to review last minute amendments. As Representative Lindsay Sabadosa recently tweeted on this issue, “I know that my constituents want their voices and concerns represented – which is hard to do if no one knows what we’re voting on.”
This past week some modest rules changes were proposed by amendments to House rules, and some brave Representatives that included Sabadosa, Gouveia, Robinson, and Hecht, stood up to require that voting on these proposals go on record as a roll call vote. So we now know who voted for or against several sensible improvements to the democratic process in our House of Representatives—to require disclosure of committee votes on bills; to give legislators 72 hours to read bills before voting on them; and 30 minutes to read last minute amendments. These are common practices in many other states that should not be threatening to democratically elected lawmakers. For example, in 26 states, including nearby states of Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, committee roll call votes are available electronically.
We can be proud of Representative Sabadosa for arguing persuasively for these changes, and for going on record voting in favor of them. Other area legislators such as Reps Mindy Domb, Dan Carey and Natalie Blais, should be thanked for voting for the 72-hour requirement, and questioned about why they voted against the other two proposals. Yet other legislators in the Pioneer Valley such as Brian Ashe, Aaron Vega, Jose Tosado, Carlos Gonzalez, Bud Williams and Paul Mark voted against all three of these measures and deserve to be asked to explain their reasoning. Let us be loud and clear that we want more openness in our State House, a stronger democracy, and more action on issues of great importance to our wellbeing.
Adele Franks is a retired public health physician who lives in Florence.
[This letter was originally sent to, but not published by the Daily Hampshire Gazette.]
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