Senate transparency moves — better than nothing (and House)
The Massachusetts Senate stepped gingerly into the digital age last week. And when the chamber arrived in the future, or at least a version of the future from several years ago, it was greeted, by the Herald editorial page, with impatience and sarcastic quotation marks.
The Senate clerk will now begin posting roll call votes online, within 48 hours of the vote. The Senate also pushed a rule requiring the public posting of committee votes. These are huge deviations from the cloistered way Beacon Hill normally does business. That fact — that the online publishing of basic information isn’t already standard procedure — provides the Herald with a springboard for damning the Legislature with faint praise.
“That lawmakers on Beacon Hill even had to debate how quickly they should be required to post roll call votes on the Internet,” the paper writes, “is a sad statement about so-called transparency on Beacon Hill — as well as the glacial pace of bureaucratic ‘progress.’ It’s 2013, people.” With a bit of a lighter touch, the Herald allows that, while the Senate’s 48-hour vote-posting window is “hardly the instant gratification that the public deserves — and that technology certainly enables — [it’s] better than nothing.”
The Herald contrasts the Senate’s small steps on transparency with those of the House, which rejected them two weeks ago, along with a raft of other Republican-sponsored rules changes. CommonWealth took up those proposed rules two weeks ago. Some were aimed at raising the bar on new spending and new taxes, but the bulk of the GOP’s rules proposals were basic good-government measures that tried to open up a closed legislative process to back bench lawmakers and the public outside Beacon Hill.
Every one failed, not because they were necessarily flawed proposals, but because they represented a direct challenge to the increasingly top-down nature of lawmaking on Beacon Hill. CommonWealth’s spring 2012 issue dissected this top-down shift, documenting the marked decline in debate, the streamlining of committee work, and the concentration of power in the hands of a few powerful legislative leaders. The Senate’s transparency moves last week will provide a small window into this new way of doing business. The House will still make its sausage out of sight.
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