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Proposal for Senate Rules Changes Would Increase Transparency

Jan 23, 2017 10:33AM ● By Pamela Johnson
With a major debate on the rules that govern the Massachusetts Senate and the Joint Rules that control the Legislature coming in the next several weeks, Senate Republicans are seeking some substantial reforms to make the legislative process more effective, accountable and transparent.

“Some of the most important early decisions we will make in this legislative session will be about how we operate as stewards of the public trust,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, who was recently re-elected to lead the Republican Caucus.  Tarr added “How we will understand and respond to the priorities of those we serve depends on having a framework that enables an open and productive legislative process.”

In an initiative that comes on the heels of such successful bi-partisan efforts as those previously adopted to require Senate roll call votes to be posted on the internet, the Republican Caucus  is now seeking further reforms for the two-year session that began on Wednesday, January 4.

They include measures to:
  • Facilitate greater transparency for informal sessions by preventing anything from being considered in them that has not had a public hearing or a committee discharge vote, requiring matters to be posted on the General Court website at least 24 hours in advance of an informal session in order to be considered, and requiring them to be recorded in the same manner as formal sessions for public viewing,
  • Ensure that committee members can examine the text of proposed bills by requiring all committees to provide legislation to members before requiring a vote on such matters for executive sessions or polls
  • Mandate that committee votes be posted on the General Court website
  • Prevent the Senate from voting on legislation after midnight without the unanimous agreement of all members
  • Declare a ‘not less than’ amount of Local Aid, including Chapter 70 education funding and unrestricted general government assistance, to be distributed to the cities and towns no later than March 31 of each year so school district, and communities can plan budgets with greater assurance of funding amounts
  • Require all joint committees to include a taxation impact statement showing the fiscal impact of any change to fees or taxes in proposed legislation
  • Require each standing committee to hold at least one public hearing each year to determine if the agencies and programs under its jurisdiction can achieve savings or operate in a more cost-effective manner
“t is our duty as elected officials to keep the legislative process open and transparent for all. In order to make the most effective decisions as a legislator, and remain responsible to our constituents, it is my hope that these proposed reforms are adopted,” said Senator Ryan Fattman.

“As a caucus, we are taking an early step with our proposed reforms to be clear about our commitment to increased transparency and accountability for our constituents. Additionally, these reforms will provide legislators with necessary information and adequate time to give due consideration to the wide-ranging issues that will come before the Legislature over the next two years,” said Senator Don Humason.

Last week, the Senate adopted temporary rules; a formal debate is expected later this month following a report by the Senate’s Rules Committee. The six member Senate Republican caucus has sent the committee a rules package of 36 rule reforms, and is seeking its approval.
Republican Senators have succeeded in securing substantive changes in previous rules changes intended to expand transparency and accountability. Last session, in an effort to add greater balance in party representation, the Senate adopted proposals to expand membership of Republicans on the Senate’s Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets Committee, Post Audit and Oversight Committee, and Ways and Means Committee.  In addition, they required that Ways and Means members be provided with the text of bills prior to committee votes, and the recording of Senator’s individual votes on the state legislature’s website.






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