House Scorecard Updates

(189th Session, 2015-2016)


✤ 2017 Jan. 23

Final 2015-2016 Scorecard Analysis

✤ 2017 Jan. 13

Finalizing (and Editing) the 2015-6 Scorecard

✤ 2016 Feb. 8

Snapshot of the House of Representatives

Partisan Composition of the House: Dem Supermajority

Follow the Leadership

Who’s Voting How?

Progressive Legislation Being Put Off

✤ 2016 Jan. 19

Solar/Net Metering Bill

Criminal Justice Reform

Inequality

Revenue

Public Records and Transgender Rights

✤ 2016 Jan. 16

The 189th Session So Far: Observations

Tools to Advocate for Changes.

Slim Pickings.

Work left on the table.

✤  2015 Dec.

Posting Updates


✤ 2017 Jan. 23

Final 2015-2016 Scorecard Analysis

Scoring the House can be a tricky endeavor given paucity of votes compared to the Senate. Amendments or bills that might split the Democratic caucus are less likely to get a hearing, let alone a recorded vote. This was especially the case in the second half of the 189th session.

 

Because of this reluctance, the House had fewer accomplishments than the Senate. It did not, like the Senate, advance legislation to combat wage theft, guarantee paid family and medical leave, protect families from abusive debt collectors, divert youth with low-level offenses from going deeper into the criminal justice system, or set 2030 and 2040 climate benchmarks--to name a few.

 

However, the session was not without accomplishments 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 furthered good government principles by improving campaign finance laws. The House also showed how we can continue to be a beacon to other states by passing legislation protecting the rights of trans individuals (and beating back amendments to weaken it).

The scores of the Democratic caucus ranged widely, from 30% (Colleen Garry) to 100% (Jonathan Hecht). Unlike in the Senate, where no Republican scored above any Democrat, Republicans James Kelcourse and David Vieira scored above Garry, with 35%. Despite such a wide range, 40 Democrats, almost one-third of the caucus, had the same score (78%) as Speaker DeLeo, with 31 of them matching him vote-for-vote. This number would have been higher if not for occasional absences.

Two votes this session highlighted significant contrasts within the Democratic caucus. 31 Democrats voted for an amendment to the trans equality bill that sought to sow confusion about the bill and promote damaging stereotypes by redundantly criminalizing acts of trespassing. And 34 Democrats rightly voted against an amendment by Governor Baker to the bill updating Massachusetts’s IDs to be compliant with the federal REAL ID law. In its attempt to prohibit undocumented immigrants from obtaining state-issued IDs, the amendment created additional hurdles for documented immigrants to do so.

Looking Ahead

Massachusetts can boast the third largest Democratic legislative supermajorities in the country (after Hawaii and Rhode Island). However, a supermajority is only valuable insofar as it is put to use.

In Washington, the conservative agenda of slashing taxes, safety nets, public interest regulations, and civil rights is about to be unleashed.  Given the sharp regress to come, it is time for Massachusetts legislators to step up their game.

With veto-proof majorities in both Houses, Massachusetts Democrats cannot point to Governor Baker for excuses about their failure to pass the bold legislation we need to make our Commonwealth work for all of its residents (and for future generations).

 

A major obstacle going into 2017 will continue to be the centralization of power into the Speaker’s office--a problem exacerbated in 2015 when House Democrats voted to abolish term limits for Speaker Robert DeLeo (see our scorecard vote #189.2h). The Speaker tightly controls the agenda; under current norms of leadership, the body of work of the MA House will only be as progressive as the Speakers wants it to be. Under Speaker DeLeo, most truly progressive legislative priorities do not even get out of committee, let alone come to a vote -- let alone a roll called (recorded) vote.

An important question progressives should consider is, who does their legislator see as his or her most important constituency -- voters or the Speaker? One of the aims of  the scorecard is to help provide data for assessment and conversation.

Notes on Process

Methodology & Action: 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.

Vote Selection: 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.

✤ 2017 Jan. 13

Finalizing (and Editing) the 2015-6 Scorecard

The final scorecard for the 2015-6 session will be out shortly. However, in the process of updating it, we made a change to the 2015 portion.

The finalized scorecard will no longer score Amendment #12 to H2017. The amendment, offered by Geoff Diehl, was to create a legislative budget office. Progressive Mass supports the creation of such an office, in theory, but the devil is in the details. Proposals like that of Senators Jamie Eldridge and Jason Lewis and Representatives Carmen Gentile and David Rogers (See text) would advance a good government agenda. However, the amendment in question is filled with red flags, such as staffing the commission to choose the director of such an office with a business school dean and the chairmen of both state parties.

Eliminating this vote from the scorecard necessitated a revision of representatives’ scores, which is now reflected in the scorecard (those numbers will, of course, be recalculated anyway when the full session’s scorecard is released). This affects the numbers provided in the 2/8/2016 snapshot of the House, but does not affect the overall analysis.

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Please cite with attribution: Progressive Massachusetts Scorecard, 189th House, “Notes and Observations,” http://progressivemass.com/scorecard

✤ 2016 Feb. 8

Please cite with attribution: Progressive Massachusetts Scorecard, 189th House, “Notes and Observations,” http://progressivemass.com/scorecard

Snapshot of the House of Representatives

Halfway through the 2015-2016 session, and before a series of important budget votes, we’re sharing our ongoing scorecard.

There are a few interesting things to note, particularly in the House of Representatives. (Our analysis on the Senate appears here).

Partisan Composition of the House: Dem Supermajority

The House has 125 Democrats and 35 Republicans. There are 46 members in the Progressive Caucus; they are all Democrats.

Follow the Leadership

Massachusetts legislative districts have great diversity, politically. But, every session, the vast majority of legislators have a voting record that is virtually (and sometimes, absolutely) identical to Speaker DeLeo’s.

Many reading this will already know that the Speaker’s position is quite powerful. But when legislators coming from districts as diverse as Amherst (very liberal) and Hingham (more conservative), and yet still have the exact same voting record -- are the voters’ interests being best served?  

Who’s Voting How?

Progressive Legislation Being Put Off

With so many issues of critical importance in the Commonwealth, it is truly disappointing how little effort had been made to bring certain important legislative items to a vote in 2015. The biggest, most important -- or contentious -- issues are still pending as of writing.

Consider the Progressive Massachusetts legislative agenda, or the issues we hear about in every day in the news. On these important and sometimes controversial matters, the legislature has done very little so far. Bringing to the floor critical progressive policy can give strong Progressives the opportunity to distinguish themselves from their colleagues as progressive leaders.  As more issues get a debate on the floor, and contentious issues such as charter schools, Paid Family Medical Leave and the Fair Share amendment are debated, along with their accompanying amendments, we hope that the the hard work of Progressive legislators will become more apparent.

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Please cite with attribution: Progressive Massachusetts Scorecard, 189th House, “Notes and Observations,” http://progressivemass.com/scorecard

✤ 2016 Jan. 19

See our full blog on the session so far over at Blue Mass Group. Excerpts here:

Solar/Net Metering Bill

Unfortunately, this bill passed the house with a litany of terrible measures that would undo much of the Patrick administration’s tremendous advances on clean energy. Governor Baker, meanwhile, has thrown his support behind building multiple natural gas pipelines. How, in Massachusetts of all places are we letting utilities National Grid and Eversource, and the big business trade association, AIM, write our energy policy/solar legislation, with a green light from House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian Dempsey? Though he is generally deeply conservative, as the chief House architect of the groundbreaking, progressive Green Communities act in 2007 and 2008, he should know better. I wish I could explain what happened.

FROM OUR SCORECARD: [Score ref: #189.14h] “Economy, Alternative Energy, Solar: This vote (the House "solar net-metering bill") reduces the netmetering rates for solar owners, cuts subsidies for solar installed on affordable housing and community solar, and eliminates grandfathering of the net metering rate of current solar installations. This bill moves MA away from a progressive energy policy, aggressively combating climate change, and supporting solar industry jobs. (Roll Call #175, Bill H3854, 11/17/2015, Progressive Position: No)”

Criminal Justice Reform

The House and Senate have successfully passed the repeal of the RMV sanctions law that takes away the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a drug offense, for up to five years. However, more comprehensive criminal justice reform, such as repealing mandatory minimums for certain drug crimes, remains stalled: Governor Baker, Speaker DeLeo and Senate Pres. Rosenberg have justified delaying action while the Council of State Governments (CSG) begin a one-year study of the state’s criminal justice system.

FROM OUR SCORECARD: [Score ref: #189.15h] “Criminal Justice, Jobs, War on Drugs: This vote repeals the law that automatically suspends drivers' licenses from persons convicted of drug crimes. It also removes the $500 fine for license reinstatement. Loss of driving privileges creates barriers to employment and successful re-entry into the community. Fines and fees disproportionately impact low-income persons and communities of color. (Roll Call #183, Bill S2021, 1/6/2016, Progressive Position: Yes)”

Inequality

We are encouraged that the Fight for 15 legislation to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour for any company that has more than 200 employees, including fast food restaurants, has been reported out of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. The Senate is beginning to show interest, but the house has remained mostly silent on the issue.

Revenue

Raise Up Mass’s work to pass the millionaires’ tax by 2018 to support education and transportation is moving us forward. However, Speaker DeLeo and Governor Baker have explicitly stated that there will be no new taxes or fees (while, somehow, raising MBTA fares is excluded from this promise) during this legislative session.

Public Records and Transgender Rights

To round out the disappointments of the first half of the session, the House has also been disappointing on Transgender Accommodations (failing to have taken it up so far) and “sunshine” issues like Public Records reforms. The Public Records bill that passed in the House is deeply flawed; we are looking to the Senate to return with a much stronger bill, so that a productive bill can emerge from conference committee.

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Please cite with attribution: Progressive Massachusetts Scorecard, 189th House, “Notes and Observations,” http://progressivemass.com/scorecard

✤ 2016 Jan. 16

The 189th Session So Far: Observations

Tools to Advocate for Changes.

As we pull together final votes to include (as of this halfway point in the 189th legislative session), there are a few trends and considerations that need to be recognized for a full record/understanding of what’s been happening up til now. With this knowledge, the grassroots can engage in more nuanced conversations with their legislators at this halfway point, and try to push them to make changes for the rest of the session.

Slim Pickings.

This session has been unusually unproductive, with few items prioritized by progressives being taken up. The House in particular has not taken up bills, whereas the Senate has made it clear that it is poised to take up bills -- but it must wait (for issues related to how the Legislature does business) for the House to take action first.

Furthermore, there have been fewer “good” roll calls this session. As we have explained elsewhere (progressivemass.com/scorecard), one can only identify how a specific legislator voted on a bill or amendment when a roll call is taken. And roll calls are, by culture/custom in this Speaker’s House, few and far between. They have been fewer and farther between during this session.

With fewer roll calls overall, our choices of roll calls to select for our Scorecard are narrow. We are limited to what they DID vote on and what they DID roll call.

Work left on the table.

So it is important to leaven our understanding of the work done this session with that which was NOT done -- really significant progressive priorities that, despite organizing inside and outside the building, have not been allowed by House leadership to come to the floor:

Furthermore, this session has been curiously marked by the passage of “Progressive Priority” bills -- with Bills that do as much (and in some cases, more) damage than good to our long-term progressive goals:

We will elaborate on these elements more at length on future updates.

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Please cite with attribution: Progressive Massachusetts Scorecard, 189th House, “Notes and Observations,” http://progressivemass.com/scorecard

✤  2015 Dec.

Posting Updates

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).

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Please cite with attribution: Progressive Massachusetts Scorecard, 189th House, “Notes and Observations,” http://progressivemass.com/scorecard