(189th Session, 2015-2016)
Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) alerted us to a Clerical error regarding her vote on the sales tax holiday in 2015. She had been marked as voting for it when she had, in fact, opposed it and spoken on the floor against it. This has been updated, and her score modified accordingly.
The Senate had a productive second half of the 189th session, and we were happy to see several of our priority bill get passed.
The Fair Share amendment, or “millionaire’s tax,” passed its first constitutional convention. Massachusetts played catch-up to other states by modernizing our public records laws. And the Senate showed how we can continue to be a beacon to other states with bold legislation protecting the rights of trans individuals (and by beating back amendments to weaken it). The Senate’s paid family and medical leave bill, which it passed at the end of the session, would advance such a legacy as well. However, consistent with a broader pattern, the Paid Leave bill, passing in the Senate, was not taken up by the House. We will continue to fight for it in the new session.
We scored other progressive bills that were not formally included in our legislative agenda, such as the zoning reform bill (which would increase the state’s stock of affordable housing), the family financial protection bill (which would provide greater protections and relief for consumers who are pursued by abusive debt collectors), a bill to divert youth with low-level offenses from going deeper into the justice system, and a bill to increase campaign finance transparency. Only the last one passed the House as well, and we hope to see the others come up again in the next session.
The scores of the Democratic caucus ranged widely, from a low of 39% (James Timilty) to a high of 100% (Jamie Eldridge). 19 Democrats, more than half of the caucus and almost half of the body, achieved a score above 80% for the full session. James Boncore, who elected in a special election in the spring, and Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who does not always choose to vote, join this high-scoring contingent, but on a smaller total of votes. Although many senators scored well, they can all be encouraged to do better in the next session— both in their votes and their leadership and advocacy in pushing progressive priorities.
A note on methodology: Absences are scored as votes against the progressive position: our elected officials are paid to represent us, and that demands showing up to vote. (There can, of course, be extenuating circumstances, which we can point out when brought to our attention). Present votes are scored the same way. We encourage every constituent with questions about absences -- or indeed, any vote -- to contact their legislators and directly inquire about their records. Scorecards, as we have articulated elsewhere, are imperfect instruments, but legislators’ votes (or non-presence for votes) are the best material available from which to assess an elected’s record. A call and conversation can be very illuminating about the priorities and decision-making of your representative.
A note on vote selection: Although we commend the Senate for passing paid family and medical leave, we are not scoring it this session because there was only a voice vote. We hope--and will fight to make sure--that it comes up again this session in both houses. And although the public records reform bill that was passed marks an improvement on the status quo, it was watered down enough to achieve unanimity, leaving much work still to do. Scoring the vote would be of little utility to holding legislators accountable---for that, we need to continue to be vigilant and to push for bolder and better reforms.
The links to roll call votes on the Senate website have re-appeared.
There is still work to do--the old links still do not redirect, and the amendment text is still not linkable--but this is a positive step. We will update you in this space when those problems are fixed as well. Onwards.
| BACK TO TOP |
In case you are wondering when we will have a final scorecard for the 2015-2016 legislation, don’t worry—it’s coming soon. The votes have been chosen, and the data is being entered. But we’ve run into a bit of a hitch.
The MA legislature recently overhauled its website. Although the aesthetics have improved, the functionality has not. And in some respects, the site has become even less user-friendly.
Specifically, as a result of this overhaul, our roll call links to Senate votes are now broken. And the new site makes Senate roll call votes more difficult to find. Before, one could find links to recorded votes on the page for the related bill, now you only see the final tally. No link and no breakdown.
There also had been a naming convention for these links, making it possible to find the link for a recorded vote as long as you knew the roll call number. No more. If you want that information, you now have to find the appropriate day’s journal on the Senate Clerk’s website and scroll through a long pdf. On the old site, there was also a naming convention to the roll call links, making it possible to find the link as long as you knew the roll call number. Unique links for the text of amendments are gone as well.
Complicated, right? Unfortunately, it just might be intentionally so.
As for the House, finding recorded votes is no more complicated than before—not that it was ever simple. If you want to find a roll call number, you either check the page of the bill itself or the specific day’s journal. And then you look up the vote here.
The MA legislature is not unique in this unnecessarily complicated and confusing access to quite basic information -- how your elected state legislators voted (and what they voted on). In general, state legislatures across the country make this very difficult.
The best way to make such information is accessible would be to feature
(1) Chronological lists of all recorded votes in a session....
(2) in which one can see the title of the bill/amendment...
(3) and click to a unique page to find the roll call.
Although it is no bastion of progressivism, the US Congress does an excellent job of (1) and (3) and is okay at (2). On this, it offers a model to state legislatures worth emulating -- and states should lead the way in building more access and transparency, too.
Knowing how elected officials vote is an essential part of holding them accountable. They work for you, and you deserve to know what they’re doing.
| BACK TO TOP |
With a new Senate President and a growing number of Senate progressives, the State Senate began the session 2015-2016 session with a promising, bold, progressive vision. In his inauguration speech, Senate President Rosenberg focused on “Shared Prosperity,” one of the key themes of our Progressive Platform, along with our priorities of tackling inequality, climate change, criminal justice reform, and transparency in government.
Indeed, the Senate has passed a strong public records bill, public accommodations for transgendered people and the Senate committees have deliberated on a number of bills and prepared them for a vote in the coming months.
Unfortunately, it is unclear which legislation will reach Governor’ Baker’s desk. The House most also vote on these bills for them to be signed into law, and as of writing, many of these bills are stalled on the House side (Because of a House-Senate dispute at the beginning of the session over committee rules reform, combined with the more conservative nature of House leadership, many joint committees [which are chaired equally by a House and Senate co-chairs, but with more House than Senate committee members] have yet to favorably report out many bills).
We cover over at the House Scorecard page: progressivemass.com/189thscorecard-house
| BACK TO TOP |
We’ll be posting OCCASIONAL observations and further explanations about votes and happenings on Beacon Hill, to contribute to fuller understanding about our scorecards and the work of the Legislature during the 189th Legislative Session (2015-2016).
| BACK TO TOP |