The Massachusetts State House voted on this session's legislative rules, including an amendment pushed forward by progressive political organization, Act On Mass, on Feb. 24. The amendment, filed by Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven of Somerville, was voted down, but would have ensured committee votes and testimony be made public. The results of the vote came as a disappointment for Act On Mass, who had been pushing for three amendments to State House rules, including this one.
In a statement released following the vote, Ryan Daulton, campaign manager with Act On Mass, shared his perspective.
"It's shocking that many of the arguments against the amendment blamed constituents for our lack of understanding of how the State House functions when that’s precisely what we are asking for: to stop being shut out of the legislative process. This vote was a blatant signal that representatives care more about power than their constituents," Ryan Daulton said, according to the statement.
In November, Act On Mass launched its “Transparency is Power” campaign, which has advocated for three amendments to State House rules. The amendments include requiring that votes held in committees be publicly disclosed; bills be made public and open to review for 72 hours prior to a final vote; and the threshold for a vote be publicly recorded to be reduced from 16 votes to eight votes.
Since its launch, the “Transparency is Power” campaign has gained the support of 19 state representatives, as well as a number of grassroots and political advocacy organizations, including Sunrise Movement Boston.
Ella McDonald, communications director for the Transparency is Power campaign, said that Act On Mass launched its campaign because it noticed that important progressive policies were dying in the state legislature.
“We were seeing this recurring problem in the State House where really critical progressive legislation just gets lost in committees and we have no idea what’s happened to it,” McDonald said. “The problem that we are really addressing with this campaign is the lack of transparency and accountability [in the State House]”
McDonald, a junior, is also involved in other activism groups including Sunrise Movement Boston and Sunrise Movement Tufts. She cited the lack of transparency in the Massachusetts State House as a reason for failed legislation. She also compared the Massachusetts State House to that of other states, and said that the Massachusetts State House is consistently ranked as one of the least transparent State Houses in the country.
“It’s really, really difficult in our State House to know how our representatives vote. We don’t have public committee votes, which puts us sort of in the minority of states,” McDonald said.
Jeanette Gronemeyer, a member of Sunrise Boston, explained how that lack of transparency in the Massachusetts State House has stalled the implementation of progressive climate justice legislation.
“Last session, Sunrise Boston’s political team did this huge push through the ‘Which Side Are You On’ campaign which focused on getting ... the 100% renewables bill passed,” she said. “Due to the lack of transparency on Beacon Hill ... [the bill] was killed in committee, and we didn’t even know which legislators to hold accountable.”
Kate Murphy, a member of Sunrise Tufts, said that last year they had tried to subvert the committee process and file the 100% renewable energy bill as an amendment.
“We were hoping that, at least by achieving roll call, we would be able to point out legislators who said they publicly supported climate justice legislation but then voted against it,” Murphy said. “It eventually ended up failing because our amendment filer was pressured by various people, and the State House ... to not file it.”
Murphy, a junior, said that without a roll call vote, it’s difficult to know which representatives to hold accountable for climate justice bills dying in committee.
“Not knowing where our reps stand makes it impossible to put pressure on them to work towards climate justice, especially since they can easily say they support something, and then in the back room just go and vote against it,” Murphy said. “We wouldn’t know because there’s no public record of committee votes ... unless roll call is demanded.”
Gronemeyer echoed the importance of knowing how legislators vote in order to put pressure on them to support climate justice legislation.
“We can’t even really successfully take on these theories of change within Massachusetts without accountability,” Gronemeyer said. “With the current non transparent processes, we don’t know how [representatives] voted, and so we don’t even know who to hold accountable.”
Gronemeyer said that the 100% renewables bill is getting filed again this session along with climate justice proposals. She emphasized the importance of the transparency amendments that Act On Mass is working to pass in order to push these bills forward.
“The justice bills that intersect with climate justice ... that will be presented this session, it is very crucial for these transparency amendments to get passed in order for those bills to even have a chance,” she said.
Murphy said that climate justice bills aren’t the only bills that have been killed in committee, but that progressive legislation is failing across the board.
“There are other bills where it’s worse,” Murphy said. “The [Safe Communities Act], which really offers protections for immigrants, was killed eight years in a row.”
On Feb. 23, Act On Mass released a statement prior to the formal vote in response to the State House’s proposed version of the joint rules.
“Over the weekend and early this week, the House reviewed the Senate proposal, and stripped it of almost every transparency measure," the statement said. “The House version wouldn’t publish a full record of committee votes, the House version completely strikes the requirement to make testimony publicly available, [and] the House rejected a provision added by the senate to provide a full week of notice to the public before the committee hearings are held.”
During the rules debate, the State House voted down the amendment, with only 36 representatives voting in favor, despite great constituent support.
Act On Mass expressed their disappointment in a statement released following the vote.
“The vote puts the deep disconnect between voters and their representatives on full display,” the statement said. “Over the past few months, volunteer members of Act on Mass have organized themselves in 100 districts alongside dozens of advocacy organizations to meet with their representatives.”
Act On Mass added that though the amendment didn’t pass, the campaign was able to make some changes to the State House rulebook.
“While the amendment did not pass, the new rules the House has already agreed to are a small step forward. That would not have happened without the massive outpouring of support from people all across the Commonwealth,” the statement said.