Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Senate GOP Caucus Files Additional Joint Rules for 188th General Court

The Massachusetts Senate Republicans Caucus are proposing an ambitious series of changes to the joint rules which govern the House and Senate, setting the stage for a critical debate tomorrow centering around transparency and accountability in the state’s legislative process.  The proposed changes, filed on Tuesday afternoon, would put more information in the hands of the public and members of the legislature, ensuring more informed and accountable actions on Beacon Hill.

The changes proposed by the caucus come at the beginning of a legislative session that will confront critical issues such as increases in taxes and spending proposed by Governor Patrick, the reform of the Sex Offender Registry System, and the oversight of the state’s forensic crime labs.

Highlights of the Senate Republican Caucus’ proposed rules package include:

  • Requiring committees to post all committee votes on the General Court website;
  • Requiring conference committee reports to be accompanied with a summary when filed with the Senate and House clerk’s office;
  • Requiring all conference committee reports to be filed no later than 5:00pm on the prior day scheduled for consideration by the General Court and the text of all conference committee reports be posted on the General Court website;
  • Providing conference committee members with the option of issuing a minority report;
  • Providing legislators at least 48 hours before meeting in an executive session to provide recommendations of legislation to the full membership of the House and Senate with the bill numbers and texts of all petitions to be considered;
  • Allowing the House and Senate to consider and adopt a joint resolution by March 15th of each year declaring the minimum level of state aid to be appropriated to the cities and towns for the upcoming fiscal year;
  • Requiring each committee to hold at least one public hearing per year to determine if the agencies and programs under its jurisdiction can achieve savings or operate in a more cost-effective manner, and to submit their findings and recommendations to the House and Senate Clerks and Chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees;
  • Requiring that each committee to consider the cost-effectiveness of all laws, regulations, and programs that fall under its purview, and recommend whether such measures should be continued, curtailed, or eliminated;
  • Requiring all joint committees to include a taxation impact statement showing the fiscal impact of any changes to fees or taxes contained in the proposed legislation, and how they will impact the average taxpayer and the state’s economy; and
  • Requiring the broadcasting of all informal sessions.

Modern technology and communications mean that more informed and accountable decisions are a necessity and not a luxury.  We must modernize our rules to reflect the fact that we can, and we should, provide increased amounts of information to each other and the people we represent.

Last week the Senate Republican Caucus was successful in the passage of a Senate rule that would require the posting of all roll call votes taken by the members of the Senate on the General Court website within 48 hours of the vote being taken.  That measure was passed unanimously by a vote of 39-0, and will take effect no later than May 1st of this year.