fb-pixel Skip to main content

Beacon Hill lawmakers nix most proposals on transparency

The state House adopted its rules packages for the 2019-20 session Wednesday.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

People come up to Somerville Representative Denise Provost at parties, she says, asking her to explain what an informal session is.

Representative Jack Lewis of Framingham starts his week at a senior center, where he freezes up when he’s asked, “Jack, what do you think is coming up?” and doesn’t know what bill he’ll be voting on two days later.

And freshman Representative Maria Robinson says she gets questions during YMCA visits about how a bill becomes a law.

House lawmakers shared stories of such constituent encounters as they made the case Wednesday for new rules they said would add transparency to state government, ultimately coming up short in most of their efforts during a session that stretched into the evening and featured spirited debate.


The House adopted its rules packages for the 2019-2020 session, agreeing to new gender-neutral language and beating back a proposal to reinstate term limits for the speakership.

A decade and two days after Speaker Robert DeLeo’s ascension to the chamber’s top post, the House on Wednesday voted down, 43-113, a proposal to implement an eight-year limit on service as speaker. The amendment would have exempted DeLeo but applied to his eventual successor.

Representative John Rogers, who lost the speakership battle in 2008 to DeLeo, said the limit would facilitate turnover among leadership and was not proposed due to any “negative animus” since he four times voted for DeLeo as speaker. Turnover could help the House elect its first woman as speaker, said Rogers.

“It’s difficult to fathom that of all the women who have ever served in this chamber, none was ever qualified to be speaker,” said Rogers, a Democrat from Norwood. “I reject that notion.”

Some representatives took issue with the attempt to link the change to the election of a woman as speaker.


“As somebody who’s been a lifelong feminist — even when that was used in a pejorative sense, I proudly embraced it — I appreciate what you had to say today, but let me be clear to the membership, this amendment does not guarantee the election of the woman as speaker of the House, and to cast this amendment and to frame it in those terms, I find disturbing,” said Representative Sarah Peake, a member of DeLeo’s leadership team.

Earlier Wednesday afternoon, the House also rejected a trio of amendments offered by Watertown Representative Jonathan Hecht intended to make House committees operations more transparent.

But with no discussion, the House agreed to a Representative Liz Malia amendment that will require the clerk to make all bills on the House docket available on the Legislature’s website. Currently, bill texts are only posted once they’ve been assigned a number and referred to committee.

One Hecht proposal that would have required that any bill to be considered during a House session be made available to representatives and the public at least 72 hours before the House takes the bill up failed 55-101.

Another Hecht amendment that would have required House committees to make redrafted bills available to all committee members at least 24 hours before a vote and would require committees to make all testimony available to representatives and the public failed on a 49-108 vote.

The third Hecht proposal, which would have required a waiting period of at least 30 minutes before an amendment filed during a debate could be considered, failed by a vote of 47-109.