Retiring rep, rep-elect share insights on State House opacity

Some of the shortcuts in the democratic process we have come to take for granted – consolidated budget amendments, limitations on debate, and conference committees resolving differences in House and Senate bills behind closed doors – have all been on display recently on Beacon Hill.

 On the Codcast, Rep. Denise Provost, who will retire as a Democratic state rep from Somerville in January, and Democrat Erika Uyterhoeven, who will replace her, agreed that Beacon Hill is an opaque place. Uyterhoeven outlined what she hopes to do about it.

 Uyterhoeven describes herself as a democratic socialist who believes the State House is out of step with working people, failing to provide needed support for transportation, education, public health, and housing. She heads a group called Act on Mass, which attributes a lot of the disconnect between Beacon Hill and working people to a legislative process that is broken.

 “When I say it’s broken, it happens at all sorts of levels. Many times reps are voting on things and they don’t know what they are voting on,” she said. “The public has very little time to engage with the bills. Oftentimes, when CommonWealth magazine and other sources of media get a chance to finally understand what’s going on, the vote has already passed. We’re doing retrospective – this is what happened – rather than this is what they’re voting on and here’s how you can have your voice heard.”

 Uyterhoeven wants voters, particularly the young voters of her district, to get more involved in legislative debates, and Act on Mass is a key part of that effort. She said the voters that lawmakers tend to serve are white, older, and own their homes.

 “Our goal was to really expand that voter base and the engagement of that voter base, so for us a lot of the work that we do is online to make it accessible for young people,” she said. “We’re hoping to launch a website in the next month that makes it so if you look up any issue – whether that’s health care, climate change, education – you can see the bills that are addressing those issues and where those bills are and who are the decision makers and how do you engage with them, call them, tweet them, email them, whatever it is to get your point of view heard.”

 Provost, a 14-year legislative veteran, comes at the issue from a different perspective, but she doesn’t disagree with Uyterhoeven’s assessment. “Certainly, the State House is an opaque place,” she said. “The experience of working remotely and engaging with constituents who are trying to follow the Legislature has made that abundantly clear to me…. Many people find our State House mystifying.”

 Act on Mass’s initial goals are fairly simple – disclose how lawmakers vote in committee, make bills public 72 hours prior to a vote, and hold more roll calls. She said the use of consolidated amendments, where amendments are lumped together and voted on as a package, illustrate the Legislature’s lack of transparency. “We know that debate happened, but it does not happen in the public eye. It happens behind closed doors,” Uyterhoeven said. “What is on display for the public to view is strictly performative politics.”

 Provost said many constituents have contacted her wanting to know what’s going on with the conference committees trying to work out differences between House and Senate bills dealing with police reform and climate change. She says she tells them she doesn’t know what’s happening because all their deliberations are private. She said she recognizes some privacy is needed to have free-wheeling discussions, but she indicated she is starting to have some doubts because some bills never emerge from conference.

 “There’s certainly a tradeoff between efficiency and certain democratic principles like full debate and transparency,” Provost said. “Doing things remotely during COVID has shifted that balance even further – toward the unknowable, shall we say.”

 Uyterhoeven says the Legislature needs to engage voters more. “The State House is largely run like a corporation, in that it’s very hierarchical and the power is held by a small number of people and the rank and files reps, even those in some form of leadership, feel that their voice doesn’t get heard or acknowledged,” she said. “The point is this is not a corporation. We actually work for our constituents. That’s our boss. That’s what’s unique about our democratic institutions is that it isn’t just about the CEO at the top or the shareholders at the top.”

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Eight of the nine members of the Massachusetts House congressional delegation call for a more inclusive State House. 

Poll data indicate residents are divided on the proper policy response to evictions.

Opinion: Dysfunctional geography: Policies driven by ancient municipal boundaries don’t make a lot of sense in the midst of a 21st century pandemic, writes Garrett Dash Nelson. … Greenwashing the MBTA’s hybrid buses. … Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, Chrissy Lynch, and Carlene Pavlos ask whether workplaces are as safe as the governor says they are. … Teens need our help coping with COVID, says Christine Schuster, the president and CEO of Emerson Hospital.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

The state reached a settlement with federal investigators in a case alleging widespread discrimination by the Department of Children and Families against parents with disabilities. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The Provincetown Select Board wants to enact a code of conduct policy for appointed members, with the goal of clearly outlining expectations about behavior, including on social media. Complaints about alleged private social media posts with racist and misogynistic language by Finance Committee chairman Mark Hatch gained attention in the past year. (Cape Cod Times)

The death of a 27-year-old man while in custody at the Brockton police station is under investigation by detectives and prosecutors. (The Enterprise)

South Shore food pantries are feeding more people than ever this Thanksgiving, as the pandemic forces families to stay home instead of going to larger shared gatherings. (Patriot Ledger)

The Massachusetts State Police is attempting to identify and locate a man for questioning in connection with Friday’s shooting of a state trooper in Hyannis. (Cape Cod Times) 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A Methuen retirement home signs up for a CDC program that will allow it to be among the first to vaccinate its residents for COVID-19. (Eagle-Tribune) Public health officials across the country are laying plans for the enormous logistical challenge of vaccinating millions of people — without having them congregate in ways that could spread the virus. (Washington Post

The COVID-19 field hospital at the DCU Center will look a little different this time around, incorporating lessons learned from its operations during the spring surge. (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President-elect Joe Biden reportedly plans to choose long-time aide Antony Blinken as secretary of state. (Bloomberg News)

ELECTIONS

The Trump effort to reverse the election results with unfounded vote fraud allegations is centered on large cities with big black populations, which the campaign is characterizing as corrupt. (New York Times

US Attorney Andrew Lelling, a Trump appointee who said Joe Biden seems to have won the election, said he doesn’t rule out a future run for office. (Boston Herald)

Although Massachusetts’ general election largely went smoothly, there were some problems and complaints. (MassLive)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A group representing automobile manufacturers filed suit in federal court to block implementation of the “right to repair” ballot question measure approved by voters earlier this month. (Boston Globe

Shirley Leung says it’s time to pressure the Marriott Copley Place hotel to provide severance pay for laid off employees just as was done with the Four Seasons hotel. (Boston Globe)

Since July, more than 200 complaints have been lodged against Worcester businesses for not following coronavirus protocols. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

The SJC will consider a case stemming from an incident at Gordon College that will examine whether a professor at a Christian college is considered a ministerial employee and therefore not covered by anti-discrimination laws. (The Salem News)

A petition circulating at Harvard University calls for stricter standards for hiring former Trump administration employees who seek to work or speak on campus. (Associated Press)

TRANSPORTATION

Following a fight in California, Massachusetts could be the next battleground over whether Uber and Lyft drivers should be considered employees or independent contractors. (The Salem News)

A Globe editorial urges state leaders to think long-term and look for ways to avoid the huge cuts in MBTA service that have been proposed. 

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A second earthquake hits Massachusetts in roughly the same area as the first — in Dartmouth. (Associated Press)

The clean energy sector — including New England’s offshore wind industry — is expecting a big boost from the switch to a Biden administration. (Boston Globe)

Opponents of the Central Maine Power hydropower project are gearing up for a ballot question challenge of the project next year. (The Salem News)

A rare 350-pound loggerhead turtle is rescued in Truro. (Associated Press)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Boston police officers seem to be able to get involved in some pretty horrible incidents — and escape any legal recupersions. (Boston Globe

Danielle Williams of Wilbraham is poised to become the first Black, female District Court judge in Western Massachusetts. (MassLive)

The Springfield police rejoin a federal anti-gang task force, after years of bad feelings between the Springfield police and the US Department of Justice. (MassLive)

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins launches an investigation into allegations that Adam Foss, a former Suffolk County prosecutor who has become a high-profile advocate for criminal justice reform, sexually assaulted a woman in 2017. (MassLive)

PASSINGS

Patrick Quinn, the co-creator of the viral Ice Bucket challenge with the late Pete Frates, has died at the age of 37 after a seven-year fight with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS. (NPR)