2019 House Scorecard: In Review

At the start of the legislative session, PM and allies inside and outside the building made a push for greater transparency. We narrowed our asks to (a) more time to read bills, (b) more time to read amendments, and (c) the publication of committee roll call votes and submitted testimony online --- sensible rules that are in place in many other state legislatures. Accordingly, we scored the three corresponding amendments to the House Rules package at the start of the session (1h - 3h). The Rules debate led to a flurry of recorded votes, a welcome change from the status quo. However, we chose to score only the votes where activists had a clear ask. 

If Legislators regretted their votes -- or wanted to further their cause of culture change that they participated in, they could have signed the Transparency Pledge from Act on Mass, which PM and other allies have endorsed. This pledge involves committing to post one’s own committee votes online and standing for roll calls. That’s an important data point, so we scored it as well (25h). 

The House began the session by finishing important business from the prior one. That included voting to ban the damaging and homophobic/transphobic practice of “conversion therapy” (4h), which has the goal of “changing” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity of a minor, and voting to eliminate a punitive welfare policy that denies benefits to children who were born while a family is receiving state assistance. For the latter bill, we focused on two votes: a conservative attempt to delay implementation by sending the bill back to committee and the override of Governor Charlie Baker’s veto (5h, 7h).

Another bit of unfinished business from the last session was legislation in response to the Supreme Court's Janus ruling, a right-wing assault on public sector unions. The bill passed almost unanimously, which was a big win, but one that obscured the actual fight happening in the chamber. Republicans were putting forth amendment after amendment to hollow out the bill, which truly showed who was willing to stand with labor and who was not (8h-11h). Governor Baker tried to weaken the bill with an amendment that, again, would make it harder for public-sector workers to organize--but that was defeated (19h). 

The Legislature also had to respond to the harmful actions from the Trump administration (something they should be doing more of…). During a supplemental budget the Legislature passed before the start of budget season, the Legislature voted to make $8 million available for family planning clinics in Massachusetts at risk of losing federal funding under a new Trump administration rule that cuts support for providers that offer abortion services (6h). 

Progressive Massachusetts, along with our allies in the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, were ready to organize for the Fair Share Amendment on the 2018 ballot. That 4% surtax on income over $1 million would have provided an essential revenue stream for education and infrastructure investments. But the corporate lobby sued, and Charlie Baker’s Supreme Judicial Court appointees agreed to kick it off the ballot. That created a need for a new strategy, and rather than a citizen-led ballot initiative for the constitutional change required (Yes, a flat tax is built into our constitution. ?!?!?), legislators would file the amendment themselves and vote to put it on the ballot. The first of two constitutional conventions happened in the summer of 2019, and during that convention, a series of conserative, anti-tax amendments to water down the Fair Share Amendment were roundly defeated. We and our allies in RUM asked for a clean vote, so we scored all of the amendments as well as the final vote (12h-18h). 

In the fall, the House voted to overhaul campaign finance rules for legislative candidates, increasing reporting and changing the way the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) is chosen. The new method, just like the old method, doesn’t prioritize people with relevant expertise. Progressive representatives put forth an amendment adding two commissioners to the body overseeing the director of OCPF to ensure that the commission does not consist solely of elected officials and that it contains people with independent legal, campaign, and elections experience; this eminently sensible amendment got voted down (20h). 

Floor debate in the MA House is not common, but it got tense later that fall around an amendment to the supplemental budget to strike language that decoupled Massachusetts’s handling of business interest expenses from the federal tax code, a corporate giveaway that would cost the state $37 million a year. During the debate, the amendment’s filer Rep. Maria Robinson (D-Framingham) was scolded for not yielding her time, and Reps. Lindsay Sabadosa (D-Northampton) and Tami Gouveia (D-Acton) were blocked from being able to speak in support of it. Although some of their colleagues claimed have that the amendment, as drafted, would lead to unintended negative consequences, House Leadership chose to suppress debate rather than allow for clarification. Given the clear intent, we chose to score it (21h). 

As progressives, we believe that our criminal legal system should ensure public safety, strong communities, and effective use of public funds, and achieving those goals require abandoning the flawed logic of the drug war and mass incarceration. The Legislature took strides forward on this front with the 2018 criminal justice reform bill, and we need to build on that (it was not enough), not go backwards. During a supplemental budget vote in the fall, Republicans tried -- unsuccessfully -- to increase spending on the drug war (22h). And during the debate about banning flavored tobacco products, Republicans who were upset with the bill tried to create new penalties for drug possession (23h). 

Fixing our broken education funding formula was one of our top priorities for the legislative session, and the Legislature did that with the Student Opportunity Act, which promised $1.5 billion in additional money in our public schools, especially for the neediest students (24h). Notably, though, that’s a promise, not an appropriation, so the fight continues. 

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