A KEY HOUSE LEADER issued a clarification of the branch’s rules proposal Wednesday morning, saying a key provision in the package would not conceal how all individual members of a committee voted on a bill coming before it.
There was confusion because the rules proposal filed on Tuesday by Rep. William Galvin of Canton, the chair of the House Rules Committee, indicated only aggregate totals would be provided showing how committee members voted for or against a bill or chose not to vote. How individual lawmakers voted would not be provided.
That proposal appeared to be more extreme than one outlined by Galvin and Rep. Sarah Peake of Provincetown in a report last week, in which they recommended that aggregate numbers be tallied for those voting yes or choosing not to vote, while identifying by name those who vote no.
Galvin issued a statement Wednesday shortly before debate was set to begin on the rules package clarifying that no change in the original House proposal was intended.
“Our intent with the proposed rules was to be consistent with the recommendations we issued last Thursday, which is to publish an aggregate tally for committee votes (affirmative, not voting and reserving their rights), along with the individual names of members voting in the negative. The intent was clarified in the summary that was sent to the Membership and in the Democratic Caucus,” Galvin said.
The issue has become a hot one on Beacon Hill, where the Senate and some House members have pushed for full disclosure, identifying how each member of a committee votes on a bill just the way roll calls are handled on the House and Senate floors. The House has resisted that approach, opting instead for what Galvin and Peake described as a balanced and nuanced approach identifying by name only those who vote against a bill and tallying aggregate numbers for those voting yes or choosing not to vote. The lawmakers said a committee vote is different from a vote on the House floor and should be treated differently.
“A committee vote is reflective of a specific proposal at a moment in time during the committee process and policy-development stage of legislation,” the two lawmakers wrote in their report last week. “Support or opposition can and should change as the legislation is refined through the committee process and as members learn more about any given topic from colleagues, experts, and the public.”
The House rules would apply to only House committees. Joint rules, which apply to joint committees of the House and Senate, have been stuck in a conference committee made up of members of both branches for months. The two branches are split on making votes public, with the Senate favoring identifying how all lawmakers vote on committee bills, while the House favors more limited disclosure.
Sen. Becca Rausch of Needham said in an op-ed published last year that greater disclosure is the right approach. “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,” she said.
Reps. Erika Uyterhoeven of Somerville and Mike Connolly of Cambridge are pushing the same approach in the House. They have filed an amendment to the proposed House rules requiring all votes in committee to be treated like roll call votes on the House floor – meaning how each member voted would be publicly disclosed.
Uyterhoeven’s push for similar language in the House version of the joint rules was unsuccessful. At the time of the House vote on the joint rules, she appealed to her colleagues to support more transparency. “The opaque and cumbersome system begs the question, what do we have to hide, what do we have to lose, why do we resist making such simple changes, and, more importantly, why shouldn’t we hold ourselves to the highest standard?” Uyterhoeven asked.