Reform advocates will press for changes in House rules

WHEN THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE sets its rules for the new two-year session, a group of advocates and lawmakers will renew their attempts to introduce more transparency into frequently opaque House processes.

The rules debate will be among the first tests of how newly elected House Speaker Ron Mariano will relate to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party – some of whose members have been hesitant about backing him.

So far, 16 state representatives have publicly backed a “transparency is power” campaign run by the progressive advocacy group Act on Mass. The representatives are generally progressive Democrats who have previously largely been locked out of House leadership positions. Several are House newcomers.

The campaign is demanding three changes to House rules. First, it wants all committee votes made public on the Legislature’s website. Today, Senate committee votes are posted on a bill’s webpage, but joint Senate and House committee votes may or may not be made public, depending on the committee chair, and they are released only upon request. (Correction: After publication, a House source pointed out that all dissenting votes from a committee vote are printed publicly in the House journal, which is posted online.)

Second, Act on Mass wants members and the public to have 72 hours between the time a bill is released from a committee and the time it is voted on, with a mechanism to suspend the rules with a roll call vote. Currently, House rules require 24 hours notice, and lawmakers often suspend the rule on a voice vote. (Senate rules already require 72 hours notice for any bills emerging from the Senate Ways and Means Committee.)

The third change would reduce the number of members needed to call for a roll call vote from 16 to eight. That would make it easier for a small group of members to request a recorded vote on a bill. (The Senate sets the threshold at the number of members in the minority party, which is currently three.)

Matt Miller, co-founder of Act on Mass, said the campaign builds off the group’s work the last two years “trying to shed light on how a lot of progressive policies are stymied in the State House.”

Two years ago, under Speaker Robert DeLeo, a vote to make all committee votes and written testimony public failed, 49-108. A vote to increase the amount of time lawmakers have to read a bill failed, 55-101. Both amendments were introduced by Rep. Jonathan Hecht, a Watertown Democrat who did not run for reelection this term.

This year, 23 progressive groups are backing the changes and lobbying lawmakers. The climate change group Sunrise Movement Boston is planning a small State House event with an online livestream this Sunday calling on lawmakers to adopt the transparency provisions. Act on Mass is hosting a virtual campaign update this Monday with Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, a newly elected Somerville Democrat, followed by a week of action.

Sunrise Movement Boston organizer Jeanette Gronemeyer said the lack of transparency is larger than just a problem under DeLeo. “We think the current non-transparent processes won’t just go away with a new State House leader/politician in DeLeo’s place,” she said. “We’ll only accomplish a transparent Legislature with passing these demands and putting them into the State House rules.”

The House on Thursday appointed a temporary rules committee, a logistical requirement for holding a formal rules debate. Mariano has not announced when the rules debate will happen, though some members expect it could be in late January or early February.

Mariano, asked about potential transparency proposals a day before he was elected speaker, said he is open to considering proposals, and any changes will be determined by the members. “Certainly, we’ll take a look at any transparency proposal that makes some sense,” Mariano said.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

FROM COMMONWEALTH

In his veto letter, Gov. Charlie Baker objects to a lot in the climate change bill, but a key Senate sponsor of the legislation accuses him of procrastinating. The governor signed a $626 million economic development bill, while using his line item veto power to remove some of the bill’s initiatives. A provision allowing hotels in specific geographical areas to charge guests a fee to fund marketing efforts makes it into the final bill.

The state’s weekly COVID reports indicate vaccine shipments slowed over the last week, while the number of communities at high-risk for the coronavirus continued to grow.

Distribution of the state’s housing assistance funds continues to lag, and the Baker administration continues to say new staffing will speed up the processing of applications.

Proposed fees on Uber and Lyft rides could raise between $56 million and $112 million, with the lower number reflected of COVID-reduced travel.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Lawrence residents petition a judge to overturn the City Council’s home rule petition letting Lawrence bypass a special election to elect a successor to Mayor Daniel Rivera. (Eagle-Tribune)

Mum’s the word from Marty Walsh, who didn’t take any questions at his first press availability since being nominated to be US labor secretary, raising questions about whether the incoming Biden administration has told him to avoid press questions. (Boston Herald

A city councilor in Pittsfield calls for disciplinary action against a colleague for failing to comply with COVID-19 protocols. The colleague denies the charges. (Berkshire Eagle

One Haverhill city councilor refuses to sign a resolution supported by the other eight members condemning the attack on the US Capitol. Michael McGonagle said it unfairly lumps together all Trump supporters with those who attacked the Capitol. (Eagle-Tribune)

Brockton’s Community Justice Task Force held its first roundtable to hear from residents about issues affecting their quality of life, including the desire to expand licenses to more marijuana establishments and policing reform. (The Enterprise)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The state tells Elaine Center at Hadley, a skilled nursing facility, that it cannot accept new patients until a COVID-19 outbreak is brought under control. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Sixty percent of inmates at the Middlesex County Jail say they don’t intend to take the COVID-19 vaccine. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

The Telegram & Gazette takes a close look at UMass Memorial hospital’s efforts to build a COVID-19 testing lab, which at its peak was processing up to 8,000 samples a week with eight to 12-hour turnaround times.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President-elect Joe Biden unveils a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. (NPR) Biden tapped former FDA head David Kessler to lead vaccination efforts for the country. (New York Times

Federal prosecutors say there is evidence that pro-Trump rioters at the Capitol last week were aiming to capture and assassinate US officials. (Washington Post) The Boston Herald thinks Joe Biden should pardon Trump. 

Massachusetts will send 500 National Guard members to Washington, DC, for Biden’s inauguration. (MassLive)

US Rep. Katherine Clark says the reason Rep. Cori Bush was booed for condemning white supremacy on the House floor and Clark was not is that Bush is black and Clark is white. (MassLive)

The news is flush with serious stories about the state of our democracy, but there is also the story of the small $3,000 a month basement apartment the government rented across the street from the swank DC home Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have in lived so that Secret Service agents protecting them — who were barred from using any of their home’s six and half bathrooms — would have somewhere to go. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

A Globe editorial supports a move to not hold a special election for mayor, as called for in the Boston city charter, should Marty Walsh leave office before March 5 and instead leave it to the fall municipal election to select a new city leader. 

Boston’s top health and human services official, Marty Martinez, said he is “absolutely” considering a run for mayor. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Jobless benefits claims continue to rise in Massachusetts. (Salem News)

Gov. Charlie Baker is touting a business relief program for small businesses, even as business owners say more help is needed. (Gloucester Daily Times

EDUCATION

In the last week, 523 Massachusetts K-12 students and 407 school staff tested positive for COVID-19. (MassLive)

Harvard workers rallied yesterday asking the university’s president to extend pandemic pay protections due to expire today through the spring. (Boston Herald

ARTS/CULTURE

A pirate ship wrecked off Wellfleet in the 18th century yields treasures to conservators. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A New Hampshire police chief is facing calls to resign after attending last week’s Washington, DC, rally of Trump supporters trying to reverse the election results that preceded the ransacking of the Capitol by some protesters. (Boston Globe) Boston police are investigating whether an officer on the force was at the rally and posted social media messages threatening Vice President Pence. (Boston Globe

The Massachusetts Parole Board approves its first sentence commutation in seven years. (WBUR)

Attorney General Maura Healey has launched an investigation of an alleged road rage incident involving Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins. (Boston Globe

An MIT professor is charged with hiding work he did for China. (Associated Press)

A Springfield police officer is facing charges after body camera footage shows he tasered a woman four times. (WBUR)

The father of a mentally ill Leominster man who died after the police were called for a wellness check at his home files a lawsuit alleging that undertrained police officers botched the call and the Worcester County district attorney conducted a sham investigation. (Telegram & Gazette)

A judge refuses to dismiss the trespassing case against a man who entered Gov. Charlie Baker’s home in Swampscott last fall and left a letter concerning his mother’s alleged mistreatment at a nursing home. (Daily Item)