2018: House Scorecard in Review

A scorecard tells a story. So what story does our 2018 scorecard of the House tell? : A guide to the 2018 Scorecard (View Spreadsheet here, website here) -- All numbers refer to the spreadsheet.

Criminal Justice Reform: After several months of negotiations in Conference Committee, the House passed landmark criminal justice reform legislation. The bill (described here) both did far more than advocates had expected at the start of the session and--as is usually the case--not enough (and with a few actively bad provisions thrown in). Celebrating wins is important, but they should be treated as fuel for future demands.

We chose to score the House vote on the conference bill (148-5, 24h) instead of its original bill because the conference bill, on most issues, was more progressive.


Immigration: The House managed to beat back Republican assaults on immigrants’ rights but failed to do anything to expand protections, a necessity given the cruel and xenophobic policies coming from the White House. A budget amendment to allow state and local law enforcement agencies to arrest and hold without a warrant a person suspected of immigration violations--a clear violation of constitutional rights that makes everyone less safe--failed 10-145 (25h), as even a majority of Republicans refused to back it. The House later tabled a xenophobic amendment to block local aid to communities that have adopted ordinances or policies restricting local police from cooperating with federal ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents (136-19, 26h).

However, the House resisted efforts to include vital immigrant protections in the budget. When the budget belatedly passed in July, with the immigrant protections passed by the Senate stripped out, there were only 6 dissenting votes (three from the left: Reps. Mike Connolly, Juana Matias, and Denise Provost, protesting this abandonment of the immigrant community) and three from the right-wing of the Republican caucus (38h).


Revenue: We began the session with the expectation that the Fair Share amendment (“millionaire’s tax”) would be on the ballot this November. Conservative justices on the Supreme Judicial Court torpedoed those plans, striking the question from the ballot in June.

Anti-tax ballot initiatives from 1998 to 2002 have created a longstanding revenue crisis in this state, as vital programs are cut and the rainy day fund is regularly drained to fund basic budgetary needs. The Legislature did not improve matters this session. They passed a new round of tax breaks for the clearly-not-struggling biotech industry (145-3, 27h) and embraced the failed gimmick of a sales tax holiday, which has been proven to drain revenue and do little to increase net sales (124-18, 36h).


Public Safety: Massachusetts has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, but as we here at Progressive Mass stress, the question is not whether we’re doing better than other states, but whether we’re doing as much as we can.

The Legislature, learning from other states’ successes, passed legislation creating a kind of court order (Extreme Risk Protection Order, or ERPO) to temporarily restrict a person's access to guns because they pose a significant danger to themselves or others, which can be requested by family members and law enforcement (139-14, 30h). Empowering family members, who are able to see early warning signs, to act in this way can prevent gun violence, whether mass shooting or suicide. House Democrats, with a handful of defections, defeated multiple Republican attempts to weaken the bill (28h, 29h).


Health Care: In June, the House rushed through a modest health care reform bill. The hallmark of the bill was a one-time assessment on insurers and large hospitals to fund community hospitals for three years—although these assessments were cut by 25 percent (without debate) before final passage. The bill also contains steps to curb exorbitant costs, such as the elimination of out-of-network billing for emergency situations. Amendments that would have facilitated the move toward a single payer system (which would accomplish the goals of both equity and efficiency) were withdrawn without debate.

Given the House’s aversion to debate, we commend outgoing Rep. Cory Atkins (D-Concord) for forcing a vote on her amendment requiring surgeons intending to operate on multiple patients at once to seek informed consent of the patients. Recent studies have shown that double-booked surgeries put patients at extra risks. The amendment, unfortunately, failed 49-100, with a mix of stalwart progressives and hardline conservatives voting in favor (31h).

In the modest opioid bill passed in July, the House succeeded at blocking a Republican effort to reinsert language giving physicians and other clinical professionals the power to involuntarily hold, for 72 hours, individuals suffering from addiction (111-36, 37h). People who undergo involuntary treatment in Massachusetts are twice as likely to die as people who undergo treatment voluntarily.

As the Supreme Court gets ever more conservative, shoring up reproductive rights here in Massachusetts is vital. The House voted 138 to 9 to repeal outdated and unconstitutional laws limiting reproductive rights that are still on the books (39h).


Democracy: Massachusetts has some of the highest voter turnout in the country due to the affluence and high education rates in the state. But those rates are hardly impressive by international standards and mask significant inequality within. In a win for democracy, the House passed Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), a reform first adopted by Oregon in 2015 (131-20, 35h). Eligible voters who interface with the RMV or MassHealth would be automatically registered to vote unless they decline. With more than 700,000 eligible citizens in MA unregistered, AVR would increase the accuracy, security, and comprehensiveness of voter rolls.


LGBTQ Rights: Did you know that “conversion therapy,” a fraudulent homophobic and transphobic practice, is still legal in Massachusetts? The House voted 137-14 to change that (34h) and defeated, in a party line vote, a disingenuous amendment that pretended that such a ban would be an infringement on First Amendment rights (33h). Unfortunately, however, the bill soon after got caught up in end-of-the-session infighting between the House and Senate.


Housing: There had been much talk about the House doing something “big” on housing. That did not materialize, although the House did pass important legislation creating a tax and regulatory framework for short-term rentals like Airbnb, which have exacerbated the affordable housing crisis by taking units off the market and turning them into investment properties (119-30, 41h).

But don’t celebrate yet. Republican Governor Charlie Baker has sought to make industry-friendly changes to the law (surprise, surprise), and given how late the Legislature passed it, they haven’t had the time to respond.


Economic Fairness: How grand was the “Grand Bargain”?

The Legislature and the Governor wanted to avoid seeing three questions appear on the ballot: a $15 minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, and a reduction of the sales tax. Progressive Mass members were major players in signature collection for the first two. Hostile retailers put the third on the ballot to give themselves a bargaining chip.

Unfortunately, the Legislature let the retailers and business lobby set the terms of the debate. The "Grand Bargain" weakened the $15 minimum wage and paid leave proposals, authorized the elimination of time-and-a-half on Sundays, and created a guaranteed sales tax holiday each year.

Was the “bargain” worth taking? That’s a question worth debate, and the Legislature decided not to have the debate--or let the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition have it either. They moved the “grand bargain” forward before advocates even had the time to weigh in (112-37, 32h).

The Legislature was, thankfully, less deferential to the wishes of the Governor on several other issues. They overrode his veto of a bill requiring that the hiring, promotion and termination of employees in custodial, maintenance, and other non-teaching positions in public schools be conducted in accordance with any governing collective bargaining agreement (116-34, 40h).

They also overrode his veto of language that would prevent his administration from effectively denying vulnerable children needed welfare benefits, by unilaterally counting a parent’s Social Security Income (afforded to disabled adults who are low-income) to determine children’s benefits eligibility (118-30, 42h). And they voted down 37-114 a proposal of his to make the adoption of a more stringent calculation of benefits (counting a parent's Supplemental Security Income in determining their children's eligibility for welfare benefits) a precondition of lifting the punitive "cap on kids” (43h). Unfortunately, this battle happened so close to the end of formal sessions on July 31 that when Baker vetoed the provision the Legislature had insisted on (rejecting his alternative proposal), the Legislature was conducting only informal sessions, in which roll-call votes (required for veto overrides) do not take place. Massachusetts will remain one of the only states that still denies benefits to children who were born while a family is receiving state assistance...for now.


About the Scorecard

A scorecard serves its purpose if it tells a story and informs advocacy.

As such, we prioritize votes that are contentious over those that are unanimous: unanimous votes neither tell a story nor inform advocacy. We prioritize bills and amendments that relate to our Progressive Platform and Legislative Agenda over those that do not.

Since legislators’ jobs are to vote, we count absences the same as votes against the progressive position when calculating scores. HOWEVER, when legislators submit letters to the Clerk detailing how they would have voted had they been present, we will count these intentions, so long as their vote would not have decided the outcome of a bill or amendment. This helps us better achieve one of our main goals -- informing advocacy -- and acknowledges that there are extenuating circumstances behind some absences.

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