THERE ARE MANY THINGS current legislators can do to advance the bipartisan value of transparency in government. An increasing number of us are already making progress. As a champion of transparency in the state Senate and the candidate who spearheaded the transparency pledge in the 2018 election cycle, I feel compelled to respond to Shira Schoenberg’s article entitled “Beacon Hill’s secretive committee voting process,” published on March 1, 2020.
As the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, I am proud that our committee rules provide for email request and distribution of voting records. The Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities does the same thing – anyone can request and receive voting records via email.
As evidenced in Schoenberg’s article, the Senate has shown its commitment to public committee votes. Indeed, the Senate-only committees already publish their votes online.
Committee votes matter; they dictate or influence the outcome of pending legislation, and frequently the committee vote is the only vote that will happen on a particular bill. (To find out how a bill actually becomes a law in the Commonwealth, check out episode 2 of Low Budget Beacon Hill, a video series I do with Rep. Maria Robinson of Framingham where we explain the ins and outs of state lawmaking.)
On the Senate floor, I made a commitment at the beginning of this session to stand each and every time anyone asked for a roll call vote. When the session began, often the only people standing were my Republican colleagues; I, as the lone Democrat, stood with them every time in the name of transparency. Recently, several of my Democratic colleagues began to stand with me.
The voters of the Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex District elected me to be a champion, and we now have a growing number of senators who literally stand up for transparency with me. I am proud of, grateful for, and humbled by this result. Another clear example: this session, nearly all Senate votes to pass bills creating or refining state policy have been taken via published roll call vote.
In addition, I publish all of my votes, both floor and committee, on my website, as do several of my colleagues. My team and I aim to update that portion of my website on a monthly basis; if the website does not yet display a very recent vote, anyone can call or email my office for my voting record. I became a senator to serve all of my constituents. They deserve to know how I vote on their behalf.
People feeling frustrated about transparency are showing it. Similar to the transparency pledge I and more than a dozen other candidates signed two years ago, a group called Act on Mass recently launched a transparency pledge of its own, endorsed by a notable number of organizations including UU Mass Action, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, the Boston Teachers Union, and PHENOM.
As of this writing, 14 of us have signed the pledge: Rep. Mike Connolly of Cambridge, Rep. Nika Elugardo of Boston, Rep. Tami Gouveia of Acton, Rep. Jonathan Hecht of Watertown, Rep. Jack Lewis of Framingham, Rep. Denise Provost of Somerville, Rep. Maria Robinson of Framingham, Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton, Rep. Patrick Kearney of Scituate, Rep. Natalie Higgins of Leominster, Rep. John Rogers of Norwood, Rep. Russell Holmes of Boston, Senator Jamie Eldridge of Acton, and myself. Multiple legislative challengers this year have made transparency one of their top issues.
Those of us elected to the state Senate and House of Representatives work for, and serve at the pleasure of, all the residents of this Commonwealth. If transparency is an issue you care about, please call or email us to make your voice heard. We are accountable to you.
Becca Rausch is the state senator from Needham.