When members of a select board, city council or school committee vote, their names and how they voted are public. Even votes on topics that were discussed in legally held closed-door sessions must eventually be made in public, with names recorded. These municipal officials are elected by citizens of a community or district and voting in public is simply an accepted part of the process of local government.
Not so on Beacon Hill. House members on the Rules Committee are wrangling over a proposal that would not identify by name how members vote on bills in committee. Instead, if the proposal is adopted, a committee would report the total number of members voting for or against a bill, and the number of members choosing not to vote. No names attached.
This proposal, put forward by state Rep. William Galvin, a Canton Democrat and chair of the Rules Committee, is even more opaque than a proposal last week by Galvin and Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown. Their proposal recommended disclosing by name only those committee members who voted against a bill. In other words, vote for a bill or abstain from a vote in committee and you get anonymity, but vote against it and you are named.
It’s true that this discussion applies only to the now-anonymous votes in House committees, unlike roll call votes on the floor of the House and Senate, which identify each lawmaker and how they voted. But the odd choice to name the person in committee who votes against a bill and keep secret the names of those who voted for it simply doesn’t seem fair or make sense. And it’s definitely not a real step toward transparency.
Imagine your local select board meeting in secret, taking a vote, then coming back into public session and naming only the one or two board members who voted against a measure. It would require citizens to use the process of elimination and, frankly, it defies logic.
Massachusetts lawmakers need to adopt rules that mandate roll calls on all bills, whether in a committee meeting or on the floor of the House or Senate, are transparent, name names and give taxpayers a true picture of where their legislators stand on issues large and small. That is part of what democracy is all about, isn’t it?