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Senate transparency moves -- better than nothing (and House)

Posted in: Massachusetts Legislature
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The Massachusetts Senate stepped gingerly into the digital age last week. And when the chamber arrived in the future, or at least a version of the future from several years ago, it was greeted, by the Herald editorial page, with impatience and sarcastic quotation marks.

The Senate clerk will now begin posting roll call votes online, within 48 hours of the vote. The Senate also pushed a rule requiring the public posting of committee votes. These are huge deviations from the cloistered way Beacon Hill normally does business. That fact -- that the online publishing of basic information isn’t already standard procedure -- provides the Herald with a springboard for damning the Legislature with faint praise.

“That lawmakers on Beacon Hill even had to debate how quickly they should be required to post roll call votes on the Internet,” the paper writes, “is a sad statement about so-called transparency on Beacon Hill — as well as the glacial pace of bureaucratic ‘progress.’ It’s 2013, people.” With a bit of a lighter touch, the Herald allows that, while the Senate’s 48-hour vote-posting window is “hardly the instant gratification that the public deserves -- and that technology certainly enables -- [it’s] better than nothing.”

The Herald contrasts the Senate’s small steps on transparency with those of the House, which rejected them two weeks ago, along with a raft of other Republican-sponsored rules changes. CommonWealth took up those proposed rules two weeks ago. Some were aimed at raising the bar on new spending and new taxes, but the bulk of the GOP’s rules proposals were basic good-government measures that tried to open up a closed legislative process to back bench lawmakers and the public outside Beacon Hill.

Every one failed, not because they were necessarily flawed proposals, but because they represented a direct challenge to the increasingly top-down nature of lawmaking on Beacon Hill. CommonWealth’s spring 2012 issue dissected this top-down shift, documenting the marked decline in debate, the streamlining of committee work, and the concentration of power in the hands of a few powerful legislative leaders. The Senate’s transparency moves last week will provide a small window into this new way of doing business. The House will still make its sausage out of sight.

                                                                                        --PAUL MCMORROW



BEACON HILL

The Cape Cod Times supports Gov. Deval Patrick’s latest proposal for handling gun background checks of people suffering from mental illnesses. The Berkshire Eagle highlights a North Adams school committee member whose statement on state and federal gun laws helped inform the Massachusetts Association of School Committees’ position on the issue.

Margery Eagan sits with new state GOP chair Kirsten Hughes.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence City Councilor Daniel Rivera announces he is running to oust Mayor William Lantigua, whose actions he says have cast a “toxic” pall over City Hall, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong negotiates a deal to buy 3,100 outdoor streetlights from the local utility and turn them back on. The lights were turned off several years ago to save money and help balance the city’s budget, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

A state review of Brockton’s financial structure has recommended, among nearly two dozen other items, the city abandon its residency requirement for employees and reconsider offering health insurance to elected officials.

Saugus town manager Scott Crabtree hosted a birthday party for his son in the city’s public safety building, stirring debate over whether he enjoys perks not available to regular citizens, the Item reports.

Leominster’s city council asks why the city’s inspections director wasn’t reappointed, and Mayor Dean Mazzarella likens the question to “treason.”

CASINOS

The chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag says he’s optimistic the tribe will get a positive decision from the federal government any day now in its request to take land in Taunton into trust to build a $500 million resort casino.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

John Kerry reports for diplomatic duty. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank says he has found his niche.

US Rep. John Tierney says he plans to file legislation that would steer seafood import tariffs to fishermen for disaster relief, the Gloucester Times reports.

An Alabama high school football coach is fired for referring to Michelle Obama’s “fat butt,” the Washington Post reports.

ELECTIONS

US Reps. Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch both say they want tougher gun laws, the Associated Press reports (via WBUR).

Lynch’s abortion position, the Globe reports, has been...evolving.

Tagg Romney and Kerry Healey put an end to speculation that they might be US Senate candidates. The Herald rounds up the day in election declarations that weren’t. Rep. Dan Winslow, the subject of this 2011 CommonWealth profile, says he’s forming a federal exploratory committee “to test the waters” for a possible Senate run.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Amazon.com will start collecting the state sales tax on Connecticut purchases, and also announced plans to open a $50 million distribution facility in the state employing 300 people, the Mirror reports. It seems like a better deal than what Massachusetts negotiated with Amazon.

Gas prices nationally have quietly risen more than 14 cents a gallon over the last week, even more in the Northeast.

A federal judge overturned Quincy’s “responsible employer ordinance” in a suit by nonunion contractors, ruling the bylaw’s mandates were trumped by federal law setting minimum benefit standards.

The Justice Department sues Standard & Poor’s, accusing the ratings agency of overstating the soundness of mortgage bonds that brought down the economy.

New Hampshire blazes a trail on “nanobreweries.”

EDUCATION

Keller@Large rips the “clueless” Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association for dropping boys gymnastics down to club level because there wasn’t enough interest, with one MIAA official telling the Globe last week, “It’s a girls’ sport. When was the last time you watched boys’ gymnastics?”

The proposed changes to Boston’s student assignment system encounter more resistance at a Roxbury meeting.

USA Today looks at colleges that are trying to reduce sticker shock.

HEALTH CARE

The MetroWest Daily News questions the wisdom of alcohol breathalyzer tests at school events after two Weymouth High School students filed suit against their school district.

TRANSPORTATION

Paul Levy suggests the best way to end those truck accidents on Storrow Drive is a return to the low-tech solution of 30 years ago of hanging “Cars Only” signs with cow bells on them to alert drivers if their vehicles are too high.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Mayor Kim Driscoll appoints an advisory board for redeveloping Salem Harbor Station, a process that seems to hinge on replacing the coal-fired power plant with a gas-powered one, the Salem News reports.

Some legislators want to revise a 1996 law that banned certain types of traps for beavers because the change triggered a boom in the animal’s population and has caused problems, including flooding in some areas.

Opponents of a proposed Brockton power plant have won a battle to have an air monitoring station placed near the facility.

A new analysis by a liberal Washington think tank has determined we can slow the effects of global warming by adopting the European model of work and put in fewer hours on the job.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A man who says he was wrongfully convicted of a drug charge because of false tests conducted by Annie Dookhan files the first civil lawsuit against the state in connection with the drug lab scandal, WBUR reports. CommonWealth’s winter issue examined the Dookhan crime lab mess.

Aaron Swartz’s girlfriend offers her analysis of why her boyfriend committed suicide. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform comes calling for US Attorney Carmen Ortiz.

MEDIA

The Washington Post is selling its headquarters, a trend in print journalism that seems to be picking up steam, The Daily Beast reports.

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