Lawmakers eat away at transparency

We’re pretty sure it’s not what our friends at State House News Service had in mind when they dubbed their weekly podcast “State House Takeout.” And if lawmakers haven’t budged on the issue yet, it’s not clear that an expose on a tray or two — or even what appears to be considerably more than that — of taxpayer-funded General Gau chicken or egg rolls will get them to suddenly embrace good-government reforms. But give the Boston Herald credit for continuing to stir the pot on the Legislature’s stubborn refusal to consider ending its exemption from the state’s public records law.

The Herald’s run at the issue came through a circuitous path that started in the state comptroller’s office and ended five miles and a tunnel-trip away at Hong Kong Dragon, a Chinese restaurant that happens to be in House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s hometown of Winthrop.

Massachusetts is one of just four states whose Legislature is exempt from public records laws — Minnesota, Iowa, and Oklahoma round out the ignoble quartet — and it is the only state where the Legislature, governor’s office, and judiciary all claim such exemption. The Herald was able to obtain information on purchases made using a House credit card from the state comptroller, who is not exempt from the public records law. Among the $49,622 spent on the card in the 2019 fiscal year that just ended, the paper zeroed in on the largest single purchase — $4,745 for a takeout order from Hong Kong Dragon that fed lawmakers on April 22 as they started deliberations on the annual state budget. The speaker’s office declined to say what role DeLeo plays in purchases using the credit card.

It hardly seems like the most compelling example of the danger of walling off the public from the inner doings of the Legislature. Shining a light on how legislation gets shaped, or killed, is more the sort of thing advocates cite in arguing for a change in the public records law. On the other hand, maybe the fact that the paper had to resort to a work-around to get information on a Chinese takeout order underscores the absurdity of the Legislature’s secretive ways.

The Herald pummeling doesn’t stop with egg roll-gate. The paper uses the example to call out the Legislature’s new interest in helping strengthen the shaky state of journalism. A bill cosponsored by Sen. Brendan Crighton and Rep. Lori Ehrlich would establish a state commission to examine the plight of communities “underserved by local journalism.”

A separate story suggests there’s more than a little hypocrisy in legislators looking to boost the press and its ability to hold government accountable while shielding themselves from that very scrutiny. Ehrlich did not respond to an inquiry from the paper, while Crighton said he opposes efforts to end the Legislature’s public records exemption. “The system is working well,” he says.

The irony of the journalism commission proposal paired with the Legislature’s stand on public records was a fat meatball over the middle of the plate for Mary Connaughton, director of government transparency at the Pioneer Institute. “How can we keep them honest if they keep us in the dark?” she asks in a column accompanying the articles.

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The Registry of Motor Vehicles received numerous warnings before a June 21 deadly crash in New Hampshire that out-of-state driving violations by Massachusetts drivers were not being processed properly, but officials at the agency did little or nothing to address the problem. At a State House hearing, Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said a RMV memo to Baker administration officials about the problem in 2016 was apparently never sent. (CommonWealth)

Northampton-area lawmakers run afoul of their liberal credentials, investing in natural gas pipeline companies and firms that hire lobbyists on Beacon Hill. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

A Globe editorial backs a bill setting out the terms under which coerced suicide is against the law.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Mayor Marty Wash’s chief policy advisor, Joyce Linehan — who  received immunity from prosecution in order to testify — took the stand yesterday in the federal City Hall corruption trial of two Walsh aides.  (Boston Globe) Globe columnist Adrian Walker is finding the prosecution case wanting.

A junkyard that has been essential squatting on some city-owned land in Salem is complicating plans for a 42-unit condominium development. (Salem News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

New Hampshire’s Medicaid work requirements were ruled illegal by a federal judge. (Governing)

Michael Gilday, a Lowell native, vice admiral, and President Trump’s choice for chief of naval operations, will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee today. (Lowell Sun)

ELECTIONS

Ten Democrats clash over competing liberal and more moderate visions, particularly on health care. (Washington Post) James Pindell says Elizabeth Warren had the best night on the Detroit debate stage. (Boston Globe) That has Frank Bruni fretting. (New York Times)

Tufts professor Daniel Drezner says Warren has put forward a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad trade program” that would be even more protectionist than Donald Trump’s. (Washington Post)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Could Rhode Island’s congressional delegation be bollixing up efforts to get federal approval of the Vineyard Wind project? (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

The New York Times digs into the same issue the Wall Street Journal covered several months ago: The far higher use of a federal disability designation in wealthy communities that lets students seek extra time on college admission tests.

ARTS/CULTURE

Nine murals are being painted in what will become the “Walls on the Water” exhibit in Hull to revitalize a drab walkway as part of the Commonwealth Places campaign run by the state. (Patriot Ledger) 

Archaeologists have shut down a dig in Boston’s Chinatown after striking the water table before reaching the remnants of a 19th century boardinghouse. (WGBH)

TRANSPORTATION 

Gov. Charlie Baker’s $18 billion transportation bond bill is a “solid start,” says Shirley Leung, but not a game-changer, say business and transportation leaders. (Boston Globe) The bill includes a proposal to bond $350 million for the infrastructure approaching the Bourne and Sagamore bridges. (Cape Cod Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

This July is the warmest month ever recorded in Boston and in much of the northeast. (WBUR)

CASINOS

A former slot machine technician at MGM Resorts in Springfield is accused of stealing $22,000 from the casino. (MassLive)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the convictions of a drug dealer who shot and killed a 26-year-old Brockton man outside a bar in an act of revenge in 2010. (Brockton Enterprise) 

A Fall River police officer, Andre DeMelo, involved in one of a number of alleged excessive force cases that led to the indictment and arrest of a fellow officer, resigned from the department last month. (Herald News) 

After the state’s Office of Alcohol Testing enacted some reforms and received national certification, the use of alcohol breath tests are once again admissible in court. (WBUR)