Thursday, February 2, 2017

Senate Republicans Seek to Drive Rules Reform Debate

The Senate will be voting today on the rules that we will use throughout this legislative session – one bill will determine Senate rules and another will define Joint rules for our interactions with the House.

The Senate Republican Caucus and I have offered several amendments which we believe will make the legislature more transparent and accountable to the citizens of the Commonwealth. We believe that the public deserves to know, in advance, the text of legislation that will be voted on. We also believe that we should prevent midnight sessions where votes are cast in the dead of night. In combination, our rules reforms are designed to maximize disclosure, minimize interruptions in informing citizens of what actions are being contemplated, and we seek to compel committees with using their expertise to recommend government savings and efficiencies. You can see our recommendations at these links- Senate Rules - Senate Bill 8 and Joint Rules - Senate Bill 9.

Here are some highlights of our proposals:

  • Facilitate greater transparency for informal sessions by:
    • preventing anything from being considered in them that has not had a public hearing or a committee discharge vote, and
    • requiring matters to be posted on the General Court website at least 24 hours in advance of an informal session in order to be considered, and
    • requiring them to be recorded in the same manner as formal sessions for public viewing,
  • Ensure that committee members can examine the text of proposed bills by requiring all committees to provide legislation to members before requiring a vote on such matters for executive sessions or polls,
  • Mandate that committee votes be posted on the General Court website,
  • Prevent the Senate from voting on legislation after midnight without the unanimous agreement of all members,
  • Declare a ‘not less than’ amount of Local Aid, including Chapter 70 education funding and unrestricted general government assistance, to be distributed to the cities and towns no later than March 31 of each year so school district, and communities can plan budgets with greater assurance of funding amounts,
  • Require all joint committees to include a taxation impact statement showing the fiscal impact of any change to fees or taxes in proposed legislation,
  • Require each standing committee to hold at least one public hearing each year to determine if the agencies and programs under its jurisdiction can achieve savings or operate in a more cost-effective manner.