Transparency sacrificed with consolidated amendments
Fate of proposals decided at ‘backroom meetings’
BACK IN JANUARY, the House Democratic caucus gathered to nominate Rep. Robert DeLeo for another term as speaker. There was no question that DeLeo had the votes, but a small group of lawmakers sought a rules change that would allow the next caucus vote for speaker, whenever that might happen, to be taken by secret ballot.
The sponsors of the rules change offered up a variety of reasons for their proposal, but their primary motivation was to allow lawmakers to cast their ballot without fear of retaliation. Speakers, after all, decide which lawmakers receive leadership positions and the extra pay and influence that come with them.
“The premise was not to make it personal about the current speaker, but to make it so the next speaker is one that folks aren’t compelled to vote for because of some backroom deal,” said Rep. Russell Holmes of Boston.
Most Democrats in the caucus took great umbrage at Holmes’s assertion, and said a secret vote would hinder efforts to bring greater transparency to the House. “I believe our constituents deserve to know who we’re voting for,” said Rep. Thomas Stanley of Waltham. Rep. Sarah Peake of Provincetown said lawmakers shouldn’t hide behind a secret ballot. “We should be moving in the direction of transparency,” she said.
Lawmakers then voted publicly in the House chamber on the consolidated amendment. According to State House News, a consolidated amendment A was approved 156-0 on Monday adding $9.25 million in spending on education and local aid while dispensing with 200 amendments with a single vote.The news service reported that the Ways and Means Committee was assembling two other consolidated amendments, “holding one backroom meeting with lawmakers on energy and environmental affairs proposals and another on amendments dealing with social services and veterans.” Another meeting in the private members’ lounge on the topics of health and human services and elder affairs was scheduled for Tuesday.
Consolidated amendments are very efficient, but not very transparent. It’s the way things are done on Beacon Hill.