THE STATE SENATE MAKES ITS MOVE

1 Stan Roseberg speaks

^ Stan Rosenberg, Senate President : shrewd bold mover

—- —- —- —-

Noticed by few, the Massachusetts State senate is making a move of great sigificance to how our state is governed. Under the leadership of its new President, Stan Rosenberg, the Senate is working itself free of the Joint Conference system by which the four times larger House outvotes the smaller senate when conferring on legislation to be enacted.

The House and Senate rarely come up with the same bill, and it’s in joint conference that the two bodies adjust the differences in a piece of legislation. Changing this method of legislating isn’t the stuff of public outrage; few people know, or care to know, how our laws are made as long as they are in fact made. But, as today’s Boston Globe editorial shows, the issue can be made to arouse the public if presented as a matter of “transparency.”

Durig last year’s governor campaign, “transparency” became a major concern. Voters do not like their legislators to hide their deals in cloakrooms. So “transparency” now holds sway, not only to get state agency records easily accessible — that’s too easy, almost — but, now, to reform the legislature’s rules.

As it is those rules, as they currently exist, which actually govern Masachusetts, changing them is a really big deal.

For the past two decades, the Speaker of the House has ruled Massachusetts’s legiuslation single-handedly. A dictator wields no stronger power than the Speaker. He appoints all members of House committees and, by his body’s vote strength on joint committees, he controls the Senate as well. Nor has there een much that anyone could do aout it. House members aren’t about to challenge the Speaker, the Senate hasn’t tried, and the Governor stas outside the process entirely.

Or does he ? As the apostle of “transparency,’ and as a sort of neutral participant, being a Republican while both Senate and House hold veto-proof Democratic majorities, Charlie Baker can, by his mere presence — not to mention his administrative initiative, which works as a model for reform — demonstrates to the public the difference between legislative “dictat” and electoral accountability.

The two men of legislative power responded diferently to the comig of aker. Speaker Deleo reached an accommodation with Baker about legislative priorities. Rosenberg, on the other hand, initiated the “Massachusetts conversations” show, by which the 40 Senators traveled all across Massachusetts holding public forums at which people could come and engage the members in dialogue. It was a impressive event, a first of its kind, and i am sure that for very many, it put the State senate firmly, vividly o the map, way ahead o the more cloaked-up House.

1 Mass convos 1

^ a “commonwealth conversation” on cape Cod. Senator “Stan” in middle of photo, background.

Now comes Rosenbberg’s procedural move, powerful at a time when the State senate has become, as a body, a very visible platoon of reformers. He has challenged Speakerr DeLeo as never before. How can the Speaker not offer his own “transparency” move in response ?

He would, I am sure, like to respond on his own terms; but Rosenberg has beaten him to it. The joint committee conference looks unfair. How can the two bodies co-operate when in committee one is outvoted four to one by the other ? To this question the public is sure to put this answer : let the joint committee numbers equal. Let the House and Senate each choose three members to a six person conference.

it has to work. After all, people elect the Senate, too. Why even have a Senate if its members ca’t ever count when it matters ?

There’s also a policy compoent to this epic struggle. The Senate is mch more pr9ogressive on the issues at hand than the House. Any increase in the Senate’s input to legisaltion is sure to move our laws in a progressive direction : energy matters, criminal justice reform, new revenue for the MBTA, funding for early education, expanding the EITC, DCF reform. And a public accommodations amendment to our transgender non-discrimination law.

It’s been a good two months for Senator “Stan.” Reform and more reform. Including having Lieutenant Governor Polito officiate his same-sex marriage. Let’s see if Speaker DeLeo can top that.

—- Mike Freederg / Here and Sphere

Author: hereandsphere

Here and Sphere is an online journal of news, opinion, reviews, advice, & bits n' pieces of everything else - from HERE to SPHERE...... Co-founded by Michael Freedberg, a long-time Boston Phoenix journalist, and Heather Cornell, a South Coast Massachusetts columnist and editor.

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