Left, Right Calling for Roll Call Votes in Massachusetts Legislature

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/12/12/left-right-calling-for-roll-call-votes-in-massachusetts-legislature/

The conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance is calling on more state legislators to follow the lead of four incoming left-of-center Democrats who have pledged to support taking more roll call votes on Beacon Hill.

“We challenge all of the newly elected legislators, Republican and Democrat, to have the same courage as these four lawmakers and take the #TransparencyPledge. The incoming class has a chance to make history. Let’s hope they choose to,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, in a written statement Tuesday.

The Transparency Pledge states:  “I pledge to stand for roll calls and to advocate for greater transparency and accountability within the Massachusetts Legislature. Elected leaders should be on record, supporting or opposing proposals on Beacon Hill.”

A roll call vote records how each legislator voted and makes it public. The presiding officer of the state Senate or state House of Representatives can call for a voice vote, in which members call out their vote in unison, and the legislator chairing the session decides if yea or nay carried the vote.

Voice votes are common on run-of-the-mill procedural votes that don’t usually have much import, such as whether to adjourn. But many legislators prefer voice votes even on substantive matters, particularly if they are controversial, so that they don’t have to be on the record about it.

State Senator-elect Becca Rausch (D-Needham) took the Transparency Pledge on August 21 and invited other candidates to do so. She encountered it during a six-month program she participated in called Emerge Massachusetts, which trains women running for public office.

“This is not — to me and to many others, this is not a partisan issue. This is about good governance and strong democracy and an engaged electorate,” Rausch said during an interview on New England Cable News on Monday.

Rausch defeated veteran Republican state Senator Richard Ross of Wrentham in the general election in November. It was the only state Senate seat an incumbent running for re-election lost.

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance spokesman emphasized Rausch’s point.

“This isn’t a Republican issue or a Democratic issue, it’s not a progressive issue or conservative issue. This is an issue of government accountability. This is an issue of lawmakers meeting the basic expectations of their constituents and openly taking positions on the issues before the House and Senate,” Craney said.

The three other incoming legislators who signed on to the Transparency Pledge are set to join the Massachusetts House of Representatives in early January 2019:  Tami Gouveia (D-Acton), Maria Robinson (D-Framingham), and Lindsay Sabadosa (D-Northampton).

“We think it’s really important for constituents to know how their legislators are voting,” Robinson told interviewer Sue O’Connell on New England Cable News on Monday.

Each chamber has a mechanism for forcing a roll call vote. In the Senate it takes either one-fifth of the members present or a number equal to number of members from the minority party, according to the current rules of the Senate. The Senate has 40 members, and in January 2019 the Republicans will have six of them.

In the House it takes at least 10 percent “of the members elected” in the 160-member body, according to current House rules. That means 16 representatives when all seats are filled. In January 2019, Republicans will have 32 seats.

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which advocates for restraint in public spending, lower taxes, and open government, noted that voice votes are common on Beacon Hill.

Progressive Massachusetts, a left-wing advocacy organization, also supports taking roll call votes. So does Renew Massachusetts Coalition, a conservative organization.

All three organizations use roll call votes to put together scorecards for legislators, which they then publicize in hopes of encouraging legislation they support and discouraging legislation they oppose.

Roll call votes are not always easy to come by, however.

“House and Senate leaders have largely eschewed taking recorded votes in recent years, preferring to pass legislation using voice votes and informal sessions as often as possible. A small band of conservative lawmakers in the House has consistently stood for recorded votes in the past, but have not always been able to carry the day,” the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance said in a written statement.

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