Final 2015-2016 House Scorecard Analysis


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Slim Pickings...

Scoring the House can be a tricky endeavor given paucity of votes compared to the Senate. Amendments or bills that might split the Democratic caucus are less likely to get a hearing, let alone a recorded vote. This was especially the case in the second half of the 189th session.

Because of this reluctance, the House had fewer accomplishments than the Senate.

It did not, like the Senate, advance legislation to combat wage theft, guarantee paid family and medical leave, protect families from abusive debt collectors, divert youth with low-level offenses from going deeper into the criminal justice system, or set 2030 and 2040 climate benchmarks--to name a few.

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...Limited Gains

However, the session was not without accomplishments

The Fair Share amendment, or “millionaire’s tax,” passed its first constitutional convention.

Massachusetts played catch-up to other states by modernizing our public records laws, and furthered good government principles by improving campaign finance laws.

The House also showed how we can continue to be a beacon to other states by passing legislation protecting the rights of trans individuals (and beating back amendments to weaken it).

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Speaker Says

The scores of the Democratic caucus ranged widely, from 30% (Colleen Garry) to 100% (Jonathan Hecht).

Unlike in the Senate, where no Republican scored above any Democrat, Republicans James Kelcourse and David Vieira scored above Garry, with 35%.

Despite such a wide range, 40 Democrats, almost one-third of the caucus, had the same score (78%) as Speaker DeLeo, with 31 of them matching him vote-for-vote. This number would have been higher if not for occasional absences.

Two votes this session highlighted significant contrasts within the Democratic caucus.

  1. 31 Democrats voted for an amendment to the trans equality bill that sought to sow confusion about the bill and promote damaging stereotypes by redundantly criminalizing acts of trespassing.
  2. And 34 Democrats rightly voted against an amendment by Governor Baker to the bill updating Massachusetts’s IDs to be compliant with the federal REAL ID law. In its attempt to prohibit undocumented immigrants from obtaining state-issued IDs, the amendment created additional hurdles for documented immigrants to do so.

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Looking Ahead: Politics of a Supermajority and a GOP Governor

Massachusetts can boast the third largest Democratic legislative supermajorities in the country (after Hawaii and Rhode Island). However, a supermajority is only valuable insofar as it is put to use.

In Washington, the conservative agenda of slashing taxes, safety nets, public interest regulations, and civil rights is about to be unleashed. Given the sharp regress to come, it is time for Massachusetts legislators to step up their game.

With veto-proof majorities in both Houses, Massachusetts Democrats cannot point to Governor Baker for excuses about their failure to pass the bold legislation we need to make our Commonwealth work for all of its residents (and for future generations).

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Who's Being Served?

A major obstacle going into 2017 will continue to be the centralization of power into the Speaker’s office--a problem exacerbated in 2015 when House Democrats voted to abolish term limits for Speaker Robert DeLeo (see our scorecard vote #189.2h). The Speaker tightly controls the agenda; under current norms of leadership, the body of work of the MA House will only be as progressive as the Speakers wants it to be. Under Speaker DeLeo, most truly progressive legislative priorities do not even get out of committee, let alone come to a vote -- let alone a roll called (recorded) vote.

An important question progressives should consider is, who does their legislator see as his or her most important constituency -- voters or the Speaker? One of the aims of the scorecard is to help provide data for assessment and conversation.

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Notes on Process

Methodology & Action: Absences are scored as votes against the progressive position: our elected officials are paid to represent us, and that demands showing up to vote. (There can, of course, be extenuating circumstances, which we can point out when brought to our attention). Present votes are scored the same way. We encourage every constituent with questions about absences -- or indeed, any vote -- to contact their legislators and directly inquire about their records. Scorecards, as we have articulated elsewhere, are imperfect instruments, but legislators’ votes (or non-presence for votes) are the best material available from which to assess an elected’s record. A call and conversation can be very illuminating about the priorities and decision-making of your representative.

Vote Selection: Although the public records reform bill that was passed marks an improvement on the status quo, it was watered down enough to achieve unanimity, leaving much work still to do. Scoring the vote would be of little utility to holding legislators accountable---for that, we need to continue to be vigilant and to push for bolder and better reforms.


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