Our Opinion: Transparency needed for Beacon Hill, too

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There are many elements to the latest crisis gripping Washington and a fundamental one is a lack of transparency. President Trump is not the only politician who has a vested interest in cloaking his actions in smoke and mirrors, although he takes it to extremes. Transparency gives way to a fog of misinformation and spin in the process.

We have nothing approaching this kind of transparency crisis on Beacon Hill, but the state did lose three consecutive House Speakers to one form of scandal or another, and their lack of openness was a factor. Massachusetts, which prides itself as a birthplace of democracy, remains the only state in the nation that exempts its legislative, executive and judicial branches from its public records law. Even though this clearly invites abuse and skepticism among voters, a Special Legislative Committee on Public Records created in 2016 as part of a reform effort dissolved in January of this year having failed to reach any kind of consensus on what to do.

The Legislature's voting procedures contribute to the opaqueness on Beacon Hill. Major policy proposals are almost always passed or defeated on voice votes, preventing constituents from learning where their elected representatives and senators stood on the issue. Worthy bills often get dumped into committee and forgotten, including bills on Election Day registration, sex education and immigration law enforcement. They, too, are usually exiled by voice votes, again enabling lawmakers to avoid going on the record with controversial votes.

A progressive group called Act On Mass is asking lawmakers to sign the Voters Deserve To Know Pledge. Pledge takers would make all of their committee voters public, including electronic polls, which are often used as an alternative to voting in public meetings. They would be required to take a recorded vote on all bills and amendments related to bills and programs they support. Committee chairs would be required to make public all of their committee votes.This pledge does not cover all forms of voting, and indeed legislators do conduct some voice votes, but Act on Mass is focusing on what it feels are the most egregious violations of transparent voting procedures.

We urge the Berkshire legislative delegation to support this effort. Constituents should know how their representatives vote on the issues of the day and elected officials should be prepared to explain or defend those votes.

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