Massachusetts State House Flunks

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PROGRESSIVE POLICY CONFERENCE

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that “uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency” today released its Transparency Report Card grading how well state legislative information is made available to the public.  And no surprise — Massachusetts got a failing grade – an “F”.

Read more about it here.

Sunlight only evaluated the data a legislature provided — its completeness, timeliness, ease of access, machine readability, use of commonly owned standards and permanence.  There are other issues of transparency and accountability that must be addressed if our State House is to be truly responsive to the needs of our residents:

  • The rules of the legislature should promote the open airing of issues and spirited debate on the future of the Commonwealth.  Hearings on vital issues should be held and bills should come for an up and down vote, particularly when a majority of legislators support them.
  • Rules of parliamentary procedure should be legally enforceable.
  • Legislation designed to address problems facing the Commonwealth should move through the State House with all deliberate speed.   Legislation should be vetted carefully but excessive study and delay designed merely to avoid decision-making and action should be eliminated.
  • The power of leadership to appoint committee chairs or to use assignments to punish and reward should be limited.

Progressive Massachusetts is committed to pushing for many of these reforms. And we are committed to providing progressive voters an easier means to stay abreast of developments in the State House, because right now, for an ordinary citizen hoping to check in on the State House — it ain’t easy.

Currently, it is possible — but maddeningly difficult — to find up-to-date information on legislation’s passage through the legislative process, making it challenging for an everyday concerned citizen to be an advocate on bills important to her/him. There can be several critical moments in a bill’s passage through the process, too, when citizens could weigh in, but when that is can be difficult to know.

It’s also very difficult for an average citizen to assess their legislators’ record and positions. Many voters do not realize that theycannot learn how their representatives voted on a bill — because most of the time, legislators’ votes are not recorded individually. The only time there’s a record of an individual legislator’s vote is when there is a roll call vote.  These roll call votes are only taken when a legislator calls from them, which happens infrequently, and the record of these votes are not easy to find. And, looked at without context, their meaning can be difficult to discern.

As we continue to push for reforms,Progressive Mass will try to bring some measure of accessibility and transparency to the process, using those pieces of information that are available:

  • We will track key progressive legislation and provide updates on their movement through the legislative process and highlight critical moments when citizen advocacy has greater impact and urgency. 
  • We will be reporting all key roll call votes in the upcoming session, giving voters a way to measure their legislators’ commitment to progressive values.
  • We will be posting (soon!) a tally of past roll call votes on key bills in the last session, again providing context for voters to assess legislators.

Stay tuned. There’s lots of work to do to raise the State House’s failing grade.

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