By Edward M. Cook
Special to the Reporter
Last week the Massachusetts House of Representatives resoundingly defeated three amendments to a House Rules bill that would have advanced transparency in that body. To their shame, Dorchester Reps. Dan Hunt and Dan Cullinane, both of whose elections I enthusiastically worked on, along with Rep. Beile, voted against providing:
• 72 hours so that bills can be read ahead of votes (many bills appear only on the day of a vote);
• 30 minutes to read amendments before voting; (the text of both of these amendments would have allowed the House to waive the requirements with a 2/3 vote)
• Publication of hearing testimony (for/against a bill) and any roll call vote taken.
Of the other members of the Dorchester delegation, to his credit, Rep. Russell Holmes voted Yes while Rep. Liz Miranda was not present due to illness.
Are they kidding, those No voters? 72 hours notice before a vote? Thirty minutes, for crying out loud, before a vote on an amendment? No publication of hearings and roll calls? Why? How can the public participate in government if there is no way to view upcoming bills or study hearings or easily learn how their representative voted? These are votes reminiscent of the tyranny of Billy Bulger in days we had hoped were long past.
On another matter, the House defeated an amendment to its rules that would have done away with Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA), which in the past have been used to hide sexual misconduct. The Senate voted unanimously to do away with NDA’s, but not the House.
I am disappointed and dismayed by those Dorchester Reps voting against these common-sense proposals. This is undemocratic. Massachusetts has the second oldest deliberative body in the world (after the UK Parliament) and the oldest functioning constitution. Yet, it has now come to this, operating like a black box.
Longfellow Street is part of a neighborhood that is beset by many of the challenges of urban living even as it enjoys its strengths of diversity. This neighborhood is already under-served by every branch of government. Keeping us in the dark will not encourage engagement. Many eligible voters do not show up—Ward 15 has the lowest- or second- lowest voter turnout in the state. Activists in the neighborhood have been working for decades to turn this around. This vote is a slap in our face and a betrayal of these citizens.
Don’t we have enough serious threats to Dorchester as a whole without the House keeping a blindfold over our eyes? Our miles of coastline are threatened by rising sea rise. Gentrification and huge real estate developments have our heads spinning. And throw in the calumnies that are perpetuated in the media as though Dorchester were one entity instead of a collection of different neighborhoods.
We should be able to trust people who represent us in government. The House votes against transparency undermine trust. No government is perfect at any given moment but imperfections can be fixed. Those transparency amendments to the House rules were fixes. They were obvious and they were needed. There is no defense for the choices that two thirds of the House members made. This vote is a reflection of the go-along to get-along deference that the speaker expects. And that power is overbearing and invisible to the average voter in the Commonwealth. The midterm elections (which brought in many of the Yes votes on these amendments) have given notice that bodies like the House are no longer clubby and corporate.
I am a Democrat. These are my guys and gals who voted No. I do not abandon either my overall regard for them or my overall pride in our Legislature. But I cry “shame” about their decision on a vote on the House rules. Because rules matter. I call on these representatives to climb off the speaker’s bandwagon and onto ours, the people’s.