Thursday, September 10, 2009

Keeping Senator Kennedy's Office Open

Today I have launched an effort to keep the office of the late Senator Edward Kennedy open for the purpose of providing constituent services until a successor is in office. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), I and numerous colleagues from both parties in the House and Senate are making the request that action be taken to allow constituent services to be provided without interruption.

This type of change has precedent and would address an issue that has been raised repeatedly since the loss of Senator Kennedy. Currently, the letter has 29 co-sponsors. Check in tomorrow to see the final list and a copy of the signed letter. To read the letter please click "Read more" below.

September 10, 2009

The Honorable Harry Reid
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Reid,

We, as elected officials in the state of Massachusetts, respectfully write to you today with the request that you take timely action to permit the office of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy to continue its constituent service functions until a successor is in place to serve the people of Massachusetts. By amending Senate Resolution 458, passed in 1984, the Senate can ensure that the six million citizens of Massachusetts receive the outstanding constituent service that Senator Kennedy has provided for the last forty-six years.

We know that you are aware that the Massachusetts state legislature is currently considering proposals to amend its laws regarding the filling of a vacancy in the office of United States Senator. In these deliberations, one of the issues that has gained significant prominence is that without a replacement, the constituent services provided by Senator Kennedy will not continue, and that the needs and well-being of the citizens of Massachusetts could suffer. Recognizing the consequences that this situation could present, we firmly believe that the leadership of the Senate has the ability to take action now that will prevent the disruption of constituent services being provided by Senator Kennedy’s office.

You likely know that the dedicated men and women who staff Senator Kennedy’s office are currently winding down the functions of that office, engaging mostly in the lengthy process of transferring the hundreds to thousands of active constituent cases to the offices of Senator John Kerry and the Massachusetts House delegation, a process made more difficult by the often confidential nature of these issues. The closure of this office is pursuant to Senate Resolution 458, passed on October 4, 1984, entitled “Closing The Office of a Senator or Senate Leader Who Dies or Resigns”. This resolution requires that, upon the vacancy of a Senate seat, the staff of the former Senator has sixty days in which to complete the closing of the office.

We believe that this rule is counterproductive to the goal of helping American citizens to enjoy the full assistance of the federal government, and believe it should be changed. Specifically, we believe that the rule should be interpreted or amended to allow a vacated Senate office to continue with its constituent services until a new Senator is in office. This change would maintain the availability of expertise that the staff of any vacated office possesses, but would specifically in this case preserve the unmatched skills and abilities of Senator Kennedy’s office at least through the special election scheduled for January 19th. A change to the language of the rule itself would ensure the continuity of constituent services whenever and wherever a vacancy arises.

Such a change would not require a lengthy period of debate, nor a cumbersome legislative process. This resolution has been amended three times: S. Res. 173 in 1987; S. Res. 478 in 2004; and S. 238 in 2007, which you co-sponsored. On each of these occasions, the proposed amendment was submitted, considered, and agreed to by voice vote or by unanimous consent in a single day. You therefore have it within your power to settle this matter quickly and permanently.

Alternatively, we believe that a broad reading of the term “closing of the office” would allow Senator Kennedy’s office to continue its constituent work until the special election. Senate Resolution 458 provides that the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration can extend the sixty-day period to whatever period is necessary to complete the closing of the office. While some observers have interpreted that term to mean that Senator Kennedy’s office may only engage in the administrative transfer of files to other legislative offices, we believe that the term could also be interpreted to mean that Senator Kennedy’s office is entitled to finish its work on the constituent matters which it currently handles. Subject to the Rules Committee’s determination that a need for an extension exists, the valuable expertise could be used for existing constituent matters within the current text of Senate Resolution 458.

We can all agree that the excellent constituent service provided by Senator Kennedy’s staff should be allowed to continue. We therefore request that the United States Senate take whatever action is necessary to achieve that goal on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its citizens.

Thank you for taking our views of this matter into consideration, and please do not hesitate to contact us if we may be of any further assistance.

Bruce Tarr
State Senator

cc: Senator Charles Schumer, Chair, Senate Committee on Rules and Administration