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Transparency in the House, Act On Mass Campaign

By Larry Pareles

The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect opinions or positions held by Indivisible Northampton.

As you know, in recent months thousands of constituents, some of the largest advocacy organizations, labor unions and media outlets organized a people-powered campaignto make the State House more transparent through rules reform. These reforms will make the State House more accessible and more responsive to the people. 

The debate on changing the House rules was delayed until summer, but committees are setting their own rules now. The Senate passed a joint rules package last week that included public committee votes and testimony, and sent that to the House. The Senate already reports their votes publicly.

Since many important decisions are made in the House/Senate joint committees, making these votes public would be a major step in improving the legislative process. However, on February 24, the House rejected the Senate’s rules about joint committee votes being made public. An amendment to restore the changes was offered, but the House rejected it.

These measures to improve legislative transparency are extremely popular with constituents who expressed more than 90% support in recent voting in 19 districts recently, but the House Leadership was vocal in its opposition and chose to criticize constituents’ naivete instead.

Here’s how some constituents reacted on Twitter soon after the vote:

“In the MA State House, Reps will cut their constituents out of the legislative process, and then blame their constituents for their lack of knowledge on the legislative process. Who does that serve?”
“Young people like myself are constantly told we don’t know enough to engage in the legislative process. This is our State House, and it governs our future. We deserve to have a voice.” 
“Why doesn’t the State Senate have any problem with sharing its votes, like most other state legislators in the U.S.? 

The version of the joint committee rules approved by the House by a 128-31 vote:

  •  keeps a notice requirement for committee hearings at 3 days, instead of the 7 days proposed by the Senate
  • makes public only the names of committee members who vote against favorably reporting a bill, unlike the Senate version which reports all votes.
  • Will not allow sharing of copies of public testimony (with reasonable exceptions) upon request.

In support of changing the rules, Rep. Erica Uyterhoeven (27th Middlesex) said, “You are saying that we have to do our work behind closed doors, and I don’t believe that is the case. I believe that is an unfortunate and sometimes elitist argument to say that we cannot show our votes to our constituents and our voters. We do not have a strong democracy by voting behind closed doors.” 

Ryan Daulton from Act on Mass wrote: “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.”

 Among the arguments made against having votes and testimony made public were that the legislators know the best ways to get their work done, that they need more “flexibility” behind closed doors, and that posting many pages of testimony would overtax their staffs.

 The Senate next decides how to handle the House’s changes: whether to accept them, amend them, or start a conference to work out a compromise (most likely in private).  

 Meanwhile, activists working for increased transparency in the House plan to ramp up their campaign for these rule changes in the spring before the House votes on their rules in July.  

 Writing Letters to the Editor for your local papers is a good way to keep this discussion open.
Keep informed at
Act On Mass

 

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Western MA Protect the Results Actions

By Larry Pareles

 

The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect opinions or positions held by Indivisible Northampton.

Citizens in Western Massachusetts have been very concerned about preserving the integrity of the national elections, and Indivisible Northampton helped organize a local coalition in support of the national Protect the Results campaign. Our coalition made plans to mobilize if necessary. Thankfully, it was not necessary to fully mobilize when it became clear that Biden had won the Presidency, and that Trump could not undermine the elections, despite his attempts to do so.

In the weeks before the election, many of us became seriously concerned that Trump would try to steal the election.  In the weeks before the elections, we quickly assembled a group of progressive leaders from about 15 large groups across the 4 counties of Western MA, and built a coalition almost overnight.  This coalition started as a temporary team to protect the elections, but since the group has been working so effectively together, we unanimously decided that this progressive coalition in western MA will continue to work to support actions into the future.  We hope this is the beginning of a large coalition here in the progressive wild west of western Massachusetts, and that we will have an impactful group going forward together.    

Subgroups in each of the 4 counties planned multiple rallies and actions across the western part of the Commonwealth, but only held some of them when Trump’s efforts to undermine the elections failed.  

On Wednesday, Nov 4th we held an evening rally in Northampton, with about 200 people, that went well.  It was peaceful and affirming.  We were hopeful, excited, concerned, uncertain, relieved, and still vigilant.  There were some very powerful and uplifting speeches by high school students, community group representatives, and three of our very fine progressive women state legislators.  

The next day, on Nov 5 there was a small rally of about 200 in the nearby town of Amherst, that went well, with hopeful and happy people parading around the town green, and making lots of cheerful noise, still carrying our messages to “Protect the results” and “Count every vote.”

On Saturday, Nov 7, we had an interesting experience in Northampton.  We planned a march from a nearby park to downtown, and started marching with 100 people with the very serious intention to continue our messaging about the importance of counting every vote.  As we walked down Main Street, more people joined the march and a band played patriotic songs along the route.  However, about that time on that fateful Saturday afternoon, Joe Biden was declared the official winner by the Associated Press.  So when we arrived in the center of Northampton, people were celebrating, and were literally dancing along the streets.  Car traffic was stopped, horns were honking, and people were cheering with joy.  Our seriously-intentioned marchers melted into the celebrating crowds lining the streets, and it was  great.  It felt like a great weight of worry and concern was being lifted off the shoulders of the crowd, and the relief and happiness was palpable.  

When the national PTR Coalition did not decide to give the activation signal, most other rallies were cancelled or postponed, although the intrepid group in far west Pittsfield also held a noon rally which was a success.  

The Western MA PTR Coalition will continue our vigilance and readiness to take action to protect the democratic transfer of power. Once Biden and Harris are sworn in, we will transition our work from protecting the integrity of this specific election, to protecting and expanding all our democratic institutions. Stay tuned.