Monday, August 17, 2015

State House Struggle

Isn't there someone they can call?

"Power struggle brewing in state Legislature; Senate, House at odds over traditional committee structure" by David Scharfenberg Globe Staff  April 04, 2015

The state Senate is seriously considering a unilateral shake-up of the Legislature’s centuries-old committee structure, lawmakers say, bringing a festering conflict between Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo to a head.

At issue is concern that Senate bills are not getting a fair shake under Beacon Hill’s system of joint House-Senate committees, dominated by House members, with jurisdiction over everything from education to labor to health care.

They can join the rest of the citizens of this state.

With a Senate push to revamp the existing system stalled in the face of House opposition, senators are speaking more openly of the “nuclear option” — withdrawing from some or all of the joint committees and setting up independent Senate panels.

Whatever the fix, lawmakers are increasingly impatient for some kind of action. While the struggle drags on, dozens of bills are in limbo.

“It needs to be resolved sooner rather than later because we need to get on with things,” said Senator William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat.

Sources with knowledge of the situation say the Senate could move as soon as next week to put the “nuclear option” or other unilateral changes in place if the two chambers cannot come to an accommodation first.


Massachusetts is one of just three states nationwide, along with Connecticut and Maine, that conduct the bulk of their legislative business in joint committees.

Lawmakers in both chambers say the setup has its advantages — allowing for a single public hearing on proposed legislation, for instance, rather than dueling hearings on the same subject.

But the House, which is the larger chamber, has a majority of the members on the joint committees and effectively controls the flow of legislation. And in recent years, long-simmering Senate frustration with the power imbalance has come to a boil.

So it really is DeLeo the dictator, huh?

As Rosenberg was campaigning for the Senate presidency two years ago, several colleagues complained about difficulty getting bills out of committee. And he made reform of the system an early priority when he took the chamber’s top post this year.

The proposed fix: allow Senate members on joint committees to push Senate bills out of committee and onto the Senate floor. House members would have the same power to discharge legislation that emanated from their chamber.

Many senators view change as a question of fairness and effective governance.

“This really goes to us, as senators, being able to represent the people who elected us,” said Senator Daniel Wolf, a Harwich Democrat.

But DeLeo labeled the proposal a “nonstarter” last month.

Now salute smartly and shaddup!

And while talks between the two chambers have continued, House leaders have been reluctant to cede power. There is, lawmakers on both sides of the dispute say, no real political upside for the lower chamber in agreeing to reform.

Senator Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat leading talks from the upper chamber’s side, says he has a good working relationship with his House counterpart, majority leader Ronald Mariano. And he remains “cautiously optimistic,” he says, that the two sides can reach a deal in the coming days.

But if the Senate winds up creating stand-alone committees, he says, the move would not be as radical as the “nuclear” moniker would suggest. Nearly every other state, he notes, has separate House and Senate committees.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s very aggressive stuff,” he said.

The Senate has some tools, already, for forcing bottled up legislation onto the floor. Both chambers have a handful of separate committees. And senators can route bills through the Senate Ways and Means or Senate Rules committees.

But the practice is generally frowned upon by House leaders, who can ignore a bill passed by the Senate in that way. And several senators told the Globe that they would prefer not to rely more heavily on the maneuver if talks with the House come up empty.

Those talks have been complicated, in recent days, by Rosenberg’s attempts to stir up public support for changing the system.


The Senate president posted a message on his website, cosigned by Montigny and minority leader Bruce Tarr, saying they support the joint committee system but believe it “is not living up to its full potential.”

And he has also taken to social media with an infographic, complete with circles, arrows, and a series of water faucets, describing how the House can turn legislation on and off in joint committees.

Mariano, a Democrat from Quincy, suggested in an interview with the Globe this week that it was unseemly to campaign on the issue while a six-member House-Senate conference committee was still negotiating.

“I was disappointed that the Senate president chose to try and influence the debate with the social media,” he said. “If they’re going to run social media every time there’s a roadblock” in a conference committee, Mariano said, “we’re going to have a very long two years.”

Yeah, those pesky people and public you are $erving!

Two years is the length of the legislative session.

Mariano also downplayed the importance of reform. Even with a change in the committee structure, he pointed out, bills would still need to pass both chambers before they could go to the governor’s desk for a signature.

But senators say pushing a bill out of committee and winning passage in the upper chamber changes the political dynamic, boosting public interest and putting political pressure on the House to act.

Although both chambers are dominated by Democrats, they frequently have competing agendas, with the Senate leaning more to the left than the House. And some of the strongest voices for change are liberal senators hoping to drain power from a more conservative House leadership.

Wait a minute. The color labels are getting all $crewed up here.

But senators emphasize the desire for change spreads across the political spectrum in the upper chamber, with several moderate Democrats and Republicans pressing for change.

Now: Massachusetts is one of just three states nationwide that conduct the bulk of their legislative business in joint committees. The committees are dominated by House members, and Senate bills often become stalled.

I'd say take it to the house, but....


"Mass. Senate ratchets up power struggle with House" by David Scharfenberg Globe Staff  April 15, 2015

House leaders, though, took umbrage at the push to shake up an age-old structure. And they saw no upside in a proposal that would only diminish their power.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo labeled it a “nonstarter” last month. And Tuesday, he took to the Globe’s editorial pages, writing that it was “ill-advised, disruptive” and “detrimental to the public interest.”

See: Mass. committee structure is successful 

The current system, he wrote, has turned out important legislation on gun safety, health care cost containment, and substance abuse.

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg said Wednesday that a new system could produce equally good bills. “This is not about the quality of the legislation,” he said. “It’s about the process and our ability to do our duty as elected senators.”

The push to blow up the state’s joint committees has been dubbed the “nuclear option” on Beacon Hill. But senators say the move would not be nearly as radical as the moniker suggests, given that most states have separate House and Senate panels.

Massachusetts is one of just three states, along with Connecticut and Maine, that conducts the bulk of its legislative business in joint committees.

The fight over changing the system slowed the legislative process on Beacon Hill, with Senate concern over the current system simmering for years. And when Rosenberg was campaigning for the chamber’s presidency two years ago, several of his colleagues raised the issue.

He started pressing for reform of joint committees after taking over as Senate president this year. And in recent weeks, he posted an online message making the case for change and a chart detailing how the House can hold up legislation....

That disappoints me.


It's an "increasingly tense power struggle."

So which side you on?

"Beacon Hill power trio in tune — mostly; DeLeo, Rosenberg in step with Baker, but battle each other" by David Scharfenberg Globe Staff  April 26, 2015

Just over 100 days into his first term, Charlie Baker, the Harvard-educated governor from Swampscott, has developed a good rapport with Winthrop’s House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and the other member of Beacon Hill’s oddly matched triumvirate: Stanley C. Rosenberg, the openly gay, Jewish Senate president from Amherst.

But if the new Big Three are trumpeting an auspicious start, there have been fissures, already, that could foretell significant breaks.

The public fight between Rosenberg and DeLeo over arcane legislative rules, including talk of a “nuclear option” that would blow up the Legislature’s committee system, slowed Beacon Hill’s business for months and pointed to deeper differences in their governing styles. And competing ideas about how to repair the beleaguered MBTA underscore an ideological split in the state’s political leadership.

That's weird, because when I looked at the bottom of it I was told an entirely different thing(sigh).

Baker and DeLeo, both avowed fiscal conservatives, have prioritized management fixes over new revenue for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, while Rosenberg has staked out a position to their left: Reform is a must, he argues, but substantial new spending is required, too.

The early dynamic has inevitably conjured comparisons to Baker’s mentor William F. Weld, a Republican governor who collaborated with Senate President William Bulger, a conservative Democrat from South Boston, at the expense of House Speaker Charles F. Flaherty, a liberal from North Cambridge.

But outside observers, and the principals themselves, say the lines are not so clearly drawn.

Rosenberg, if left-leaning, is widely considered a pragmatist. And he and Baker share a geeky appreciation for public policy minutia. “He likes to get in the weeds,” Rosenberg said, admiringly, of the man in the corner office.

That's nice to see regarding the new governor. Such a difference from the last guy who apparently switched on the autopilot as soon as he took office.

If the relationship between the Senate president and the administration is grounded in data, there are more personal connections, too. Baker’s lieutenant governor, Karyn Polito, a former opponent of gay marriage, is set to officiate Rosenberg’s wedding to his partner.

She is drawing a lot of criticism for the conversion.

Also seeGlobe Ruined Rosenberg's Romance

Maybe he is the one who hacked 'em.

Indeed, the greatest tension at the moment is not between the Democratic leaders and the Republican governor but between the Democratic leaders themselves.

Rosenberg and DeLeo have sparred over the Legislature’s centuries-old system of joint House-Senate committees that share jurisdiction over matters ranging from education to housing and the environment.

The House, a far larger chamber, has a majority on each panel and effectively controls the flow of legislation. Senators have long groused that their bills are too often bottled up in committee.

The House has resisted the push to revamp the system, seeing little upside in reforms that would diminish its power. But recently, the Senate took a first step toward the so-called “nuclear option” — authorizing planning for standalone Senate panels that would spell the end of the joint committees.

That means WAR!

DeLeo says he is puzzled by the whole affair.

“The thing that has sort of taken me by surprise is the fact that, in my 24 years here, I’ve never seen this issue raised,” he said. “You know, the Senate president, if there’s an issue which he feels is important, all he has to do is call me and we’ll talk about it.”

But senators say Rosenberg’s ongoing push to overhaul the committee structure is, in part, about moving away from a governance model that puts a handful of influential legislative leaders at the center.

Rosenberg has spoken of a “shared leadership” approach in the Senate. Casting off a House-controlled committee structure means empowering Senate chairmen to work on legislation they care about.

“I think the clash is symbolic of a much bigger cultural difference, not only between the chambers, but between the leaders,” said Senator Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat who is a key figure in the committee fight.

The Senate president highlighted the cultural differences himself, in a recent interview, when he discussed the two chambers’ handling of a Baker administration proposal to induce early retirement by thousands of state workers.

See: Taxing Weekend

The House unanimously passed the governor’s plan. The Senate, by contrast, discussed the early-retirement legislation in a series of three caucus meetings, watched a significant bloc of senators air their misgivings about the bill in a Globe article, and made changes to the bill before passage.

Both chambers had the bill for 21 days, Rosenberg noted. “We used the time a little differently,” he said.

DeLeo has chafed at the narrative building up around the two leaders. Speakers are often cast as iron-fisted rulers, an image burnished by DeLeo’s recent successful push to eliminate term limits for the post. But the speaker’s supporters insist the caricature is overdone.

He's also a hypocrite (and I'm trying to put myself in his shoes).

Many on Beacon Hill, moreover, acknowledge that the sheer size of the House, with 160 members to the Senate’s 40, lends itself to more centralization of power. “It’s a different management challenge,” said Montigny, the New Bedford senator.

Whatever their differences, the speaker and Senate president have worked together on several important budget fixes in recent months — as they are quick to point out.

An understanding of the state’s balance sheet has, in fact, been an important piece of common ground for Beacon Hill’s Big Three. DeLeo and Rosenberg were both chairmen of their chambers’ budget-writing Ways and Means committees.

And Rosenberg worked directly with Baker, from that perch, in the late 1990s, when Baker was budget chief for Governor Weld.

John McDonough, a former Democratic state representative who is now a public health professor at Harvard University, said the feature that most distinguishes the relationship among the new Big Three, so far, is the relative tranquility. Other new governors have stumbled, he said, but not Baker.

“I’ve been waiting for him to make the same boneheaded mistakes [other governors made], and I haven’t seen them,” McDonough said.

Even Baker’s Rino’s Place outing worked out in the end. And he was more adventurous, he insists, than DeLeo’s culinary crack would suggest.

“I grabbed all the good stuff to go when the speaker wasn’t looking,” Baker told the Globe.


Make sure you get a selfie!

RelatedCharlie Baker summits Beacon Hill

That was after a chilly reception.

Rosenberg’s listening tour opens term on the right note

Also see:

State Senate leaders call for criminal justice overhaul

Top state officials seek review of criminal justice system

Rosenberg presses for criminal justice reform

Speaking to a crowd of top Boston business leaders munching on eggs and lobster in a gilded hotel ballroom at Boston’s Park Plaza. 

(a room full of criminals)

In Mass. and elsewhere, a push for custody reform

Court suspends probation officer demotions

Exam shredding error is setback for probation promotion overhaul

Court access debate persists

Once you understand that scandal you can understand why Massachusetts has so many dumb laws (in all due fairne$$, it was a jobs program). Must be why Murray needs all the money.

Scientists, lawmakers seek solution to honeybee crisis

Isn't that sweet?

Highway protest bill author draws fire

What ever happened to those pay raises?

Quietly inserted into legi$lation?

School nurses concerned about diabetes bill

Mass. bill seeks to rein in prices of some drugs

Time to party!

"Invitation to political fund-raiser might skirt ethics laws" by Frank Phillips Globe Staff  June 20, 2015

During state budget season, when millions are at stake on Beacon Hill, it is not uncommon for prominent lawmakers to be feted at fund-raisers attended by lobbyists and state contractors with a keen interest in the back-room negotiations.

Did you check their pockets?

But an e-mailed invitation to a fund-raiser for state Representative Brian Dempsey, the House budget chief, was a bit over the top — emblazoned with the official Massachusetts state seal, an emblem that the state’s ethics law bars from being used by politicians to raise campaign funds.

A day after the Globe made inquiries both to Dempsey’s office and to the event organizer, Merrimack Valley businessman Salvatore Lupoli, the June 29 event in Lawrence was canceled.

Lupoli, who collects millions of dollars a year from state leases and is looking to make major investments in Dempsey’s home city of Haverhill, laid the blame for the use of the state seal on his marketing staff. He said he knew nothing of its appearance on the flyer....

Sgt. Schultz holds a seat in the Ma$$achu$etts legi$lature?


He blamed his staff!

And for those who think I'm Republican:

"In state Senate, all 6 Republicans collect leadership pay" by Frank Phillips, Globe Staff  March 23, 2015

When he is back home in the heart of the Tea Party-friendly Blackstone Valley, Ryan Fattman gains political traction by sneering at the pension perks and travel allowances that Massachusetts lawmakers enjoy. That anti-Beacon Hill stance has helped him win elections — a House race in 2010 and a Senate race last year.

But now that he has settled into his new role as state senator, the 30-year-old Webster lawmaker has grabbed one of the best legislative perks offered on Beacon Hill: a $15,000-a-year stipend to essentially do nothing.

Now I'm $eeing where the budget holes are coming from!

That extra pay, added onto his $60,032 base legislative salary, comes with his appointment as “assistant minority whip,” a job usually given to those who are assigned to enforce party discipline on the rank and file. But there is no Republican rank and file in the Senate — thus, there are no back-benchers to whip into line.

In fact, every senator in that small six-member Republican caucus holds a leadership title — and thus gets the added $15,000 that comes with the title. Fattman is assistant to minority whip Donald F. Humason of Westfield, who gets the same leadership stipend.

Pay raises, pensions, and perks have been objects of obsession on Beacon Hill for decades, and Democrats, too, have for years enjoyed their share of the spoils. Lucrative leadership posts or committee chairmanships and vice chairmanships are eagerly sought by members and used by leaders to instill discipline.

The extra pay started nearly three decades ago with arguments that lawmakers’ jobs had become more demanding and policy issues more complicated.

$elf-$erving ju$tifications are always nice.

But such benefits are also perfect fodder for candidates like Fattman to use against opponents. He defeated an incumbent Democratic House member in his first legislative race in part by making an issue of her taking of “per diem” payments — allowances claimed by some legislators for driving to and from the State House. And he proudly vowed not to take a state pension.

“Beacon Hill needs to go on a diet,’’ he said, vowing to find the “pork in the budget.”

The $15,000 stipend is particularly striking when considering other legislators who have far more responsibilities and hugely greater workloads often get far less of a bonus. 

Hypocri$y knows no party!

Sonia Chang-Diaz, who won her Senate seat in 2008, is now cochair of the Joint Committee on Education, a major panel that grapples with some of the state’s most sweeping educational issues. The Boston Democrat collects a $7,500 stipend — half the $15,000 leadership bonus — for cochairing the panel with her House counterpart. She also serves as vice chairwoman of the joint committee on bonding, but the post carries no stipend.

See: A Defiant Chang-Diaz

Senator William Brownsberger, the Belmont Democrat, is cochairman of the Joint Judiciary Committee, another active and key legislative committee that is a critical part of the state’s criminal justice system. He too gets $7,500 extra in his pay. His position as vice chairman of the Senate ethics committee has no stipend.

Neither Fattman nor Senate Republican minority leader Bruce Tarr, who appointed him to the position, responded to repeated requests during the past week for interviews.

The GOP’s assistant minority leader, Robert Hedlund, defended Fattman, saying stipends are given to everyone in the Senate, with Democrats scooping up most of them. He did note the irony of Fattman’s duties as a legislative whip in a caucus of only leaders.

“He can whip himself,’’ quipped Hedlund.

But he noted that the Senate Democrats have long manipulated the extra-pay system to ensure everyone in their caucus got fatter paychecks. He said Democrats, as their numbers swelled in recent years, created more committees to ensure there were enough extra-paying chairs to give out for their members.

Don't you just love public $ervants!?

“This dynamic has been in place long before Ryan Fattman showed up,’’ said Hedlund, who gets an extra $15,000 for his title.

So that makes it okay? 

If that is the attitude, slavery would still be legal!

Legislative stipends have evolved during the past three decades as legislating became increasingly more complicated and time consuming. And the Republicans, who often rail against Beacon Hill excesses, are major beneficiaries.

It's all $elf-$erving $hit!

Tarr, the minority leader, gets $22,500 added to his base pay.

Maybe he should be Tarred and feathered.

Under him are the other five GOP members who make up the caucus, each of whom gets a $15,000 stipend. That includes two assistant minority leaders, a minority whip, and an assistant whip, the position Fattman has been given. There is also a “ranking member” of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The GOP in the House operates with just five leaders — one less than its Senate counterpart — but its 35-member caucus is nearly six times the size. House minority leader Brad Jones, who collects a $22,500 stipend, relies on four floor leaders to help lead the 30 other Republicans. Five other House Republicans collect extra pay: One gets an extra $15,000 for serving as the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee; four others get paid for serving as ranking members on other committees.

It's obvious Republican control isn't the answer. Nor is....

To be sure, Democrats take care of their own. Every one of them gets extra pay. Most Senate committee chairs make an extra $15,000. There are 36 extra paying committee chairmanships. Fifteen of the committee chair positions pay $7,500. Among the Democrats who hold those lesser paying chairs, eight collect another $7,500 stipend for serving as a vice chair of another committee.

One of the most dubious extra pay schemes was former House leader Thomas Finneran’s creation in 1997 of the four House “division leaders” (“hall monitors” as they are called by critics) who get an extra $15,000, supposedly to count votes. But, with the recent string of strong-armed speakers, vote counting is done out of the speaker’s office. The positions, like those created by other speakers, add to the leadership’s power to reward — and retain the loyalty of — supporters.

And the power to punish those who do not, from stripping them of committee assignments to taking away their privileged parking space.

Fifteen years ago, Democratic leaders came up with a new one. First the Senate and then the House created a vaguely defined sinecure: Senate president pro tempore and House speaker pro tempore. The position, which ranks second in the leadership ladder in both bodies, is generally used to take care of some loyal allies or elder statesmen when there is no other room high up in the leadership ranks. It carries a $15,000 stipend.

Just looking to pass out the tax loot wherever they can while the public is neglected. 

I'll remember this next time the politicians and pre$$ are screaming for a tax increase to save the social services budgets (we get cuts anyway, but....).


That's the end of the fireworks, and I'm struggling to finish today's posts.

UPDATE: State bill pushes for more medical privacy

Also seeMedical privacy plan offers sensible remedy