House rejects efforts to disclose committee votes
New rules only require identification of those who vote no on bills
THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected efforts to publicly disclose how representatives vote on bills at the committee level.
In approving a new set of operating rules for the chamber, the House backed a provision that would hide how most lawmakers vote on bills coming before them in committees. Under the provision, the House would give an aggregate vote tally for those voting yes, those not voting, and those reserving their rights. Those who vote no, however, would be identified by name.
During the debate, many House members said they favored non-disclosure of their votes because they worried that those votes could be misconstrued. They said they often vote in support of bills at the committee level to move them along in the legislative process even though they may not fully support them in their current form.
“A vote in the negative is clear. A vote in the affirmative is less clear,” said Rep. Joseph Wagner of Chicopee, the second assistant majority leader.
Rep. Daniel Cahill of Lynn said the push to disclose how lawmakers voted was unnecessary and would end up putting an undue burden on legislative staffers who would have to gather the information. “To have them take on additional duties to get down to granular level of information, to provide that, would be unfair to our staff,” Cahill said.
The lawmakers pushing for greater vote disclosure came from the right and left. Rep. Bradley Jones of North Reading, the leader of the Republicans in the House, and Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, a Democrat from Somerville, both pushed amendments requiring full disclosure of committee votes. Their amendments were defeated by margins of 121-38 and 117-41, respectively.
Jones seem puzzled by the opposition to disclosing how House members vote, and particularly the rule that lawmakers would be identified when they vote no but not when they vote yes. “Why don’t we take the full step and delineate the entirety of the roll call?” he asked.
Uyterhoeven said the most important job of a lawmaker is to vote, and legislators owe it to the public to share where they stand on issues that come before them. “This amendment is about holding ourselves accountable to the public,” she said.
Rep. William Galvin, the chair of the House Rules Committee, issued a clarification to the rules package just prior to the legislative session on Wednesday. The language of the rules package indicated no lawmaker’s vote would be disclosed publicly, but Galvin issued a statement saying he wanted to clarify that only lawmakers who vote no would be identified. A technical amendment was later approved fixing the language in the rules package, according to one of Galvin’s aides.
The issue of committee votes was part of a much larger package of permanent rules debated by the House. The rules package calls for live-streaming all debates in the House, continuing the use of hybrid hearings, creating three new committees, and authorizing the chamber to revert to emergency operating procedures if necessary in one-month increments.
The House voted 129-29 for the overall rules package and 130-30 for an extension until this fall of the emergency order the House is currently operating under. The extension means the new rules will not take effect until October, when House leaders indicated the State House is likely to reopen to the public. House members and staffers on the live-stream Wednesday all wore face masks in the chamber.
The Senate version of the joint rules would disclose how all lawmakers vote on bills in committees, while the House version would only disclose the votes of those who vote no.
A series of amendments to the House rules were soundly defeated, including one filed by Rep. Tami Gouveia of Acton restoring an eight-year term limit for the speaker. Gouveia argued a term limit would help curb the immense power of the speaker by mandating periodic change. She noted the speaker allocates all resources to lawmakers, picks who heads committees (and receives extra pay as a result), and sets the legislative agenda.
“Instituting term limits is about putting in place the guardrail to help ensure a more Democratic and responsive House, one that fosters fair and thoughtful competition,” she said.
Rep. Jack Lewis of Framingham said term limits for the speaker are a non-issue. He said no constituent of his has ever raised concerns about how the speaker is selected.Rep. Christopher Markey of Dartmouth also opposed the amendment. “Change for the sake of change is not good,” he said.
The term limits amendment was defeated 125-35.