Beacon Hill pols prefer less scrutiny of Beacon Hill pols
If, as the Washington Post now proclaims on its masthead, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” the already low-level lighting on Beacon Hill was just dimmed to a 5-watt flicker.
When lawmakers passed reforms in 2016 to the state’s public records law, they left in place an exemption covering the Legislature, the governor’s office, and the judiciary. Instead, legislators opted to form a commission to study making those entities subject to the law, which covers most municipal government offices as well as executive branch departments of state government.
If cynics thought that might be a bit like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, their skepticism hardly seems to have been misplaced.
After two years, that special commission missed its final deadline for filing a report with recommendations and has been disbanded, reports the Globe’s Todd Wallack. The Senate members of the commission filed a separate report offering some recommendations for greater transparency regarding committee votes and hearings.
In a case of unenviable exceptionalism, Massachusetts is the only state where all three branches of state government are entirely exempt from public records laws.
Mary Connaughton, director of government transparency at the Pioneer Institute, called the commission’s inaction “an epic failure that weakens our democracy.”
The issue is complicated by the fact that the state Constitution might preclude legislative moves to open up the governor’s office and judiciary to the public records law. “We are the only state in the union that broaches the subject in our Constitution,” Benson told the Globe. “We cannot change the Constitution with legislation.”
Lawmakers are entirely free, however, to pass legislation making their own work subject to the public records law, just as municipal legislative bodies are. But there appears to be little appetite for such a move in a place whose wheels have long been greased by backroom deal-making far from public view.
There are all sorts of occasions in which Massachusetts has stood apart from the other 49 states. Legalization of same-sex marriage and the state’s 2006 health care law are two recent examples. In such cases, the question to always ask is whether we’re a leading light, blazing a trail that others will ultimately follow, or whether we’re clinging to a hidebound way of doing business at odds with open governance and the principles of democracy we claim to have helped plant.
Sometimes, to ask a question is to answer it.
— MICHAEL JONAS
Momentum is growing on Beacon Hill for an education funding bill, but opinions are split on whether the legislation should just provide badly needed money or whether it should be accompanied by requirements aimed at improving student outcomes. (CommonWealth)
Senate President Karen Spilka tells environmental advocates that dealing with climate change is her top priority. (State House News)
The tab for bottled water for state workers is $1.1 million. (Boston Herald)
A Globe editorial says the Walsh administration and City Council need to take more forceful action to reform the hidebound culture and structure of the Boston Fire Department. City Council president Andrea Campbell said the city should consider doing away with the use of the civil service system for public safety hiring, arguing that it has blocked the hiring of more women and minorities in the police and fire departments. (Boston Globe)
With its current mayor under indictment and facing a recall election, and only years after a previous mayor was recalled midterm, some in Fall River want to ditch the strong-mayor form of government in favor of putting a professional city manager in charge. (Herald News)
A Fall River addiction-treatment program is suing the city for blocking its efforts to build a 60-bed treatment center there. (Boston Globe)
Long known as a perennial gadfly candidate running for various offices under various party labels, she is now Boston City Councilor Althea Garrison. (Boston Globe)
President Trump walked out on congressional Democrats during a meeting on the government shutdown and border wall, a move Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer called “a temper tantrum.” (New York Times) US Rep. James McGovern, now chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, said the House has adopted a special provision that bypasses a rule normally requiring a three-day wait would allow for an immediate vote to reopen government agencies if a deal is struck. (Boston Herald)
More cuts are on tap at State Street Corp. (Boston Globe)
Business is booming at Durgin Park as the historic restaurant prepares to close. (MassLive)
The Salem redevelopment authority grills the owner of the Witch City Mall on his lack of presence in the city and his decision to change the name of the mall without first getting the required approval. (Salem News)
A Lowell Sun editorial praises MassDevelopment and its success at generating economic activity at Devens.
Jeff Bezos is getting a divorce, and the National Enquirer says it has the scoop on the affair that it says caused the breakup.
The chairman of the board of a Dorchester charter school that has been mired in controversy over poor academic performance and lavish payments to its former director has resigned. (WGBH News)
“Is New Bedford arts and culture gay enough?” asks Steven Froias. (Herald News)
Low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines will soon land at Logan. (Boston Globe)
A Cannabis Advisory Board subcommittee recommended allowing marijuana delivery services and pot cafes where users could gather, proposals that now to go the Cannabis Control Commission, which oversees pot regulations. (Boston Herald)
A Berkshire Eagle editorial raised concerns about Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s decision to agree to release a suspected robber pending trial. “In her desire to protect the rights of the accused, District Attorney Harrington must not be so zealous that she fails to protect the rights of the larger, law-abiding community. We urge the district attorney to strike a better balance going forward,” the editorial said.
District Court judge Robert Brennan rules that Breathalyzer tests cannot be used as evidence in courtrooms until the state’s Office of Alcohol Testing undergoes major reforms. (MassLive)
Michael Babich, the former CEO of Insys Therapeutics, pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston yesterday to involvement in a kickback scheme to reward physicians who prescribed the company’s fentanyl-based opioid drugs. (Boston Herald)PASSINGS
Former regional EPA administrator Michael Deland, who played a key role in the cleanup of Boston Harbor, died at age 77. (Boston Globe)