Transparency sacrificed with consolidated amendments

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.

There was no similar debate about transparency on Monday as the House began deliberations on the state budget. In keeping with long-standing practice, House members filed amendments to the budget, the amendments were lumped together by subject matter, and then decisions were made behind closed doors on which proposals in the so-called “consolidated amendment” would pass and which ones would be defeated.

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.



The Massachusetts House informally decided not to discuss revenue initiatives during its budget debate, choosing to save that discussion for later this year. (MassLive)

Advocates are calling for creation of an outside agency to oversee foster care placements in the state. (Boston Globe)

Most Massachusetts counties have experienced population growth over the last eight years, but not Barnstable, Berkshire, and Franklin counties, which have lost population. (Boston Globe)


City Councilor Michelle Wu gets the rising star treatment from The Atlantic, which asks whether she’s the next mayor of Boston.

Support to change the state seal is gaining traction on Cape Cod, where the towns of Eastham, Orleans, Brewster, Harwich, and Chatham are considering resolutions supporting a statewide bill. Adopted in 1885, the seal depicts a Native American below a sword, an image many believe serves as a reminder of the genocide of natives during European colonization. The bill would create a special commission of 20 seats, with five dedicated to Native American leaders, with the intention of recommending a revised and new design. (Cape Cod Times)

The mother of an Abington police sergeant who committed suicide is talking about the systematic problems that may have led to his death. (Brockton Enterprise)

Attorney General Maura Healey slapped the Framingham School Committee with a series of open meeting law violations. (MetroWest Daily News)


Vermont and Maine dumped Columbus Day and went instead with indigenous peoples day. (CNN)


Bernie Sanders said felons convicted of even the most dastardly crimes, including the Boston Marathon bombings, should retain the right to vote while in prison. (Boston Globe) Adam Reilly and Peter Kadzis of WGBH watched five CNN town halls with Democratic presidential candidates and came away finding Sen. Amy Klobuchar clever, Sen. Elizabeth Warren policy-rich, Sen. Bernie Sanders popular, Sen. Kamala Harris cool, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg Obama-esque.

Warren unveils a program calling for a massive debt forgiveness program for student loans and tuition-free higher education at public universities and colleges. (Boston Globe)

Joe Battenfeld says Seth Moulton should worry about retaining his congressional seat if his newly-minted presidential campaign goes south. (Boston Herald) Several women are either planning to run against him or thinking about it; they say he should represent his district instead of campaigning around the country. (Boston Globe) Are they saying the same about US Sen. Elizabeth Warren? In the district, Marblehead Selectman Judith Jacobi has been fielding calls from friends around the country about Moulton’s campaign, and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said the three Bay Staters in the running for president will add a “touch of local excitement to an already high profile, high stakes presidential race.” (Eagle-Tribune)

A Herald editorial says Moulton should play up his service in the Marines, but then scolds his launch video — which does just that — for going on to lament the fact that the Iraq war was predicated on the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Quincy City Councilor Kirsten Hughes will not seek re-election in the fall, opening up the seat on the city council she has held since 2011. (Patriot Ledger)


In the face of a long decline in private-sector union jobs, the outcome of the strike by unionized Stop & Shop workers is being heralded as a moment of labor victory. (Boston Globe)


Marie Izquierdo, the first of three finalists for the Boston school superintendent post to undergo a set of public interviews, said the district needs to have difficult conversations and “right-size” itself in the face of footprint that’s too big for its enrollment size. (Boston Globe) Globe columnist Joan Vennochi asks whether local high school leader Oscar Santos is “already the anointed one,” picking up on an issue raised last week in CommonWealth.  J. Stuart Ablon, a professor of child psychiatry, wants to ensure the next superintendent is familiar with modern approaches to school discipline including a method called collaborative problem solving.  (WBUR)

After the controversial departure of Salem High School’s principal, the district’s superintendent, Margarita Ruiz, is now on her way out the door. (Salem News)

To reduce the likelihood of the city of Fall River running afoul of state-mandated school funding obligations, the City Council is considering a request from Mayor Jasiel Correia II to transfer $1 million initially allocated for school department health insurance to the district’s operating budget. (Herald News)

Simmons University president Helen Drinan, credited with turning around the school’s shaky finances, will step down in June 2020. (Boston Globe)


Bounced paychecks and unpaid bills have thrown New Bedford nursing home Bedford Gardens into chaos. Nurse aides have left in such numbers that on Easter, director Steven Haase shutdown a whole floor and brought patients downstairs, calling the situation unsafe. The nursing home and several others in the area appear to be owned by Joseph Schwartz, who owns Skyline Healthcare, which made headlines last year for reportedly failing to make payroll at other nursing homes in Kansas and Nebraska. Department of Public Health spokeswoman Marybeth McCabe says the agency is monitoring the situation. (Herald News)

The New York Times spotlights the opposition to Medicare for All plans from hospitals, which stand to lose billions of dollars under a single-payer system. CommonWealth dug into this topic last week with a story reporting that the Massachusetts Hospital Association has come out against Medicare for All.


Rich Barlow worries about white supremacists on games like Fortnite after talking to Texas Tech scholar Megan Condis who says white supremacists actively recruit on gaming platforms. (WBUR)


Gov. Charlie Baker finally came up with a financing plan for South Coast Rail, The plan calls for the state, using general obligation and rail enhancement bonds, to fund the entire $1 billion project, a first-term campaign pledge of the governor. Baker is making a huge financial bet on the project, and many wonder whether the bet will pay off. Joseph Aiello, the chair of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, demanded an accounting of what it will cost to operate and maintain the new commuter rail service to Fall River and New Bedford. (CommonWealth)

T notes: Fare gates are coming to the North, South, and Back Bay commuter rail stations….General Manager Steve Poftak announces a number of hires….John Dalton, who is overseeing the Green Line extension to Somerville and Medford, warns of “scope creep.” (CommonWealth)


Voters in Hingham are giving the go ahead for selectmen to buy the town’s municipal water system from Aquarion, a privately operated subsidiary of Eversource. The $114 million purchase will put the water system under public ownership for the first time in 140 years. (Patriot Ledger)


Southbridge is having second thoughts about its pot ban. (Telegram & Gazette)