Ctrl C Democracy

Using the processing power equivalent to 150 computers running non-stop for several months, a group of journalists has quantified the extent to which state lawmakers borrow from model bill texts – which are often backed by industry or ideological groups.

Over the past eight years, 10,163 bills out of the nearly 1 million introduced in state legislatures were almost entirely copied, and there are untold other bills whose ideas – but not the precise language – came from model bills, according to the two-year investigation by USA Today, The Arizona Republic, and the Center for Public Integrity.

There is nothing inherently wrong with model legislation. Advocates from various points on the political spectrum use the tactic. When partisan gridlock prevents passage of federal legislation, lobbyists look to state capitols to adopt their proposed policies.

The story references proposed taxes on sugar-laden drinks as one example of legislation that borrows from model bills.

Appearing on The Horse Race podcast this week, Allyson Perron, the government relations director for the American Heart Association in Massachusetts, spoke about that proposal in terms that make it clear there is a multi-state lobbying effort afoot.

“We’ve seen success in a lot of local municipalities on passing a sugary drink tax. No state has done it, so Massachusetts certainly has the opportunity to be on the early end of that,” Perron said. “There are several states that have proposed it, including all the ones that surround us.”

Perron’s comments also get at one of the conceits of policymakers in Massachusetts and no doubt other states — to be the ones to create the model. It’s hard to spend very much time on Beacon Hill without hearing someone referencing how the state constitution was the template for the national one, or how Romneycare begat Obamacare.

The big data story includes some graphics that indicate in Massachusetts the majority of prepackaged legislative proposals don’t come from ideological organizations on the left or right, but from industry groups.

In Massachusetts, the door is wide open for the filing of legislation. The 200 lawmakers can file legislation throughout the two-year session, and certain other government officials have the power to introduce bills in the Legislature. State reps and senators usually file bills at the request of constituents even if they don’t agree with the proposed policy – designating that those bills were filed at the request of that person.

Other states have more limited legislative sessions and some have offices tasked with turning elected officials’ ideas into legislation. The copycat bill story published Thursday will land in the midst of legislative sessions for the majority of states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures calendar, though the sessions in Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming have already ended. Of the roughly 10,000 bills that copied proposed text, more than 2,100 were signed into law in recent years.

While there might not be anything nefarious about using model legislation, it seems like a public good to shine a spotlight on the practice. Lawmakers rely on lobbyists because they have the proposed solutions at the ready, along with talking points and experts to make the case. Now the public has some data to understand that dynamic a little better.

ANDY METZGER


BEACON HILL

A top public safety aide to Gov. Charlie Baker urges Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins to revise six of the enforcement policies she rolled out last week, but it doesn’t sound as if she’s likely to comply. (State House News)

Good timing politically: With the governor’s distracted driving legislation pending on Beacon Hill, State Police say a driver checking his GPS rear-ended a trooper’s vehicle on the Massachusetts Turnpike. (MassLive)

A Globe editorial says Attorney General Maura Healey and the state Cannabis Control Commission need to show more muscle in enforcing state regulations against firms holding or controlling more than three marijuana licenses.

The governor is fine with a proposal to add a non-binary gender option on state IDs and the RMV is “ready to roll” with it if it becomes law, according to Senate President Karen Spilka. (WGBH)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh proposes increasing aid for homelessness and housing by $6.4 million, or 45 percent. (WBUR)

The Worcester Redevelopment Authority gives the owner of the Midtown Mall 30 days to come up with a detailed plan for the mall’s future. (Telegram & Gazette)

A Natick resident is leading an effort to more tightly regulate short-term rentals by Airbnb and others. (MetroWest Daily News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Democrats are hoping the push to obtain President Trump’s tax returns will give a boost to ongoing House investigations into his finances. (Boston Globe)

US Rep. Ayanna Pressley tells how her mother was abused and beaten as she speaks out in support of the Violence Against Women Act. (MassLive)

Jim Brainerd, the mayor of Carmel, Indiana, makes the conservative case for addressing climate change. (Governing)

ELECTIONS

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, who is considering jumping into the Democratic presidential contest, will be in Boston this morning for a fundraiser hosted by Suffolk Construction — which happens to be looking to do more business in New York. (New York Times)

South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is expected to formally announce his Democratic presidential run later this month, is facing questions over his use in 2015 of the phrase “all lives matter,” which has sometimes been used to counter the “black lives matter” refrain spotlighting the long history of disparate law enforcement treatment of African-Americans. (New York Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Quincy City Councilor Anne Mahoney says many of Mayor Thomas Koch’s spending requests appear to tie in with a yet-to-be finalized land deal with FoxRock Properties, a commercial real estate firm that has bought up more than $20 million worth of Quincy property in and around the downtown in recent years. (Patriot Ledger)

EDUCATION

Harvard, which didn’t get caught up in the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal, appears to have a separate scandal of its own, as the Globe reports on the fishy tale of the university’s fencing coach selling his Needham home for nearly twice its assessed value to a Maryland businessman whose son then got admitted to Harvard and joined the fencing team. The businessman says it had nothing to do with his son — he was just trying to help the coach.

At The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan gives a rollicking account of how the college admissions systems were gamed by the type of wealthy parents that she remembers well from her time as a guidance counselor at a California prep school.

Elaine Weintraub, an education consultant, says she raised objections about an MCAS question that asked students to write from the viewpoint of a racist character about two years before state education officials removed the question from the exam. (WGBH)

Interim UMass Boston chancellor Katherine Newman is pushing top downtown firms that claim an interest in building a more diverse company to cast their recruitment eye on her campus. (Boston Globe)

MIT has cut its funding and research connections to two Chinese technology firms, Huawei and ZTE, which have been accused of serving as conduits for espionage. (WBUR) Earlier this year, UMass Boston severed its ties with Confucius Institutes, which some fear the Chinese government uses as outposts for espionage. (CommonWealth)

After a computer virus knocked out internet service to the Lynn school system three weeks ago, teachers are rediscovering how to teach without access to the web. (Daily Item)

North Andover schools Superintendent Gregg Gilligan has ordered the high school to scrap controversial school safety plans that restricted the movement of alleged sexual assault victims pending a review of the policy. (Eagle-Tribune)

Former Salem High School Principal Jennifer DeStefano said she abruptly resigned this year because she felt she lacked support from the school district. She said she was surprised at how quickly a replacement was hired. (Salem News)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Health care workers at Blue Hills Health and Rehabilitation Center in Stoughton are asking for higher pay and more affordable health care from an owner who is threatening to sell the facility. (Brockton Enterprise)

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack seems to be hedging on whether the state will follow through on her pledge to have a new commuter rail contract in place by July 2022. (CommonWealth)

Mayor Marty Walsh wants to boost parking meter rates in Boston. (Boston Herald)

A Herald editorial says ride-hailing companies Lyft and Uber should institute stricter vetting standards for drivers.

CASINOS

It was a busy day at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Some of the commissioners seemed to doubt the explanations of Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox. A Wynn security official described how he spied on Steve Wynn’s ex-wife. And, as the commissioners begin deliberations, the stakes are high. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A teacher at Nathaniel H. Wixon School in Dennis is under investigation by the Dennis Police Department for an alleged assault on a nine-year-old student for talking in a hallway. (Cape Cod Times)

A Nantucket District Court judge says the trial of actor Kevin Spacey, who is charged with groping an 18-year-old busboy at a bar, will not happen before late October or early November. (Cape Cod Times)