Study: Number of ‘significant’ votes declines in House

The Lowell Sun

UPDATED:   01/13/2016

By Michael Norton

State House News Service          images-6

BOSTON — Data released Wednesday attaches numeric evidence to a voting trend that many Beacon Hill insiders are already aware of.

The conservative non-profit Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance reported that 41 “significant” roll call votes were taken in 2015 in the Massachusetts House compared to 149 in 2013 and 115 in 2014. The 20-year average, according to the group, was 110 votes.

Analysts defined significant roll call votes as those that are not unanimous, procedurally mandated or veto overrides, which are often unanimous or break down on party lines.

Representatives and senators can force recorded votes by standing with their colleagues who ask for roll call votes.

In the 160-member House, 10 percent of members elected, or 16 members, must stand to force a recorded vote.

In the 40-member Senate, a roll call is ordered when one fifth of members stand to support one or if all Republicans stand in support. Sen. Robert Hedlund’s resignation this month to become the mayor of Weymouth brought the Senate GOP caucus down to five members.

To avoid roll calls, which can become election fodder and detail differences between and within the major parties, members can opt not to stand in support of holding them or pass bills on voice votes.

House leaders in recent years have also often dodged tough political votes by adopting further amendments calling for controversial proposals to be studied, or by dispensing with amendments behind closed doors in favor of passing large “consolidated” amendments.

Fiscal Alliance executive director Paul Craney said there was a drop in significant roll calls after his group launched a campaign that delivered 2 million pieces of literature pertaining to votes taken to homes in 21 legislative districts.

“Our advocacy was effective,” Craney said in a statement. “This is an unintended consequence of opening up the goings on of Beacon Hill to public scrutiny.” He added, “How the business of governing will change as the House loses its institutional memory of voting behavior is something we’re studying carefully. Watching a legislature that rarely votes is as odd as seeing a circus without animals.”

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