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"Informal sessions" -- an unconstitutional sham on Massachusetts citizens
Corruption, laziness, and arrogance by legislators
POSTED: October 13, 2010
The Massachusetts Constitution specifically requires a majority of the House or Senate to conduct business.
This is not difficult math. The House has 160 members and the Senate has 40 members, so you need 81 House members and 21 Senators present to conduct business legally.
But when it suits them, the Legislature simply ignores that requirement and meets with as few as two members in the chamber. They then proceed to pass laws with a "gentleman's agreement" that no one present will ask for a quorum count, so they pretend there is a quorum. They call these "informal sessions" and carry on as if they were legitimate. The elected officials and media all play along with this.
As part of the "gentleman's agreement", if a House or Senate member wants to stop an informal session, he just stands and says "I doubt the presence of a quorum" and the meeting is gaveled to an end. In other words, the Legislature understands that informal sessions are technically illegal. This happens rarely because it's considered "not going along." It's what Rep. Karyn Polito did all last week (see above) and it made them pretty upset.
(In addition, the Legislature exempts itself from the state's Open Meeting Laws. Unlike every other public body in Massachusetts, the public is banned from taking photos or videos of the Legislature in session. Thus, to expose the "informal sessions" you have to go there yourself and take notes.)
Legislators love "informal sessions"
Massachusetts legislators love informal sessions because:
A sleazy way of doing the people's business
Besides the fact that it's a corrupt way to legislate, the obvious problems with this include:
But in fact, far more bills are "passed" this way by the Massachusetts Legislature than through legitimate means!
It's actually done quite openly. There are several "informal sessions" scheduled and publicized in advance every month. You can go and watch them from the visitors' balcony, though of course unlike legal sessions they're not televised (and all photos and videos of the proceedings are prohibited).
Examples of abuses using "informal sessions"
As described above, few people are aware that far more bills are passed into "law" through informal sessions than through lawful, legitimate means. Many such bills are include pet projects for state legislators, special favors to benefit a particular person or state employee, and requests from a city or town. Others are controversial or unpopular bills that could not get through the normal process - thus bypassing debate, amendments, roll calls, and public scrutiny.
Just a few (of many) examples of controversial bills that became law via informal sessions:
Sample State House News report from an informal session
There's at least one every week. Most informal sessions are more mundane, but still very problematic. Here's from a recent State News Report of the Senate's Sept. 2 informal session where three senators were passing laws:
SENATE SESSION - THURSDAY, SEPT. 2, 2010
RESOLUTIONS: The Senate adopted resolutions filed by Sens. Fargo and Spilka.
PETITION REFERRAL: The Senate referred a Moore, Tarr, Binienda and Peterson petition regarding marine vessels to the Transportation Committee.
SICK LEAVE BANK: The Senate adopted a Ways and Means substitute amendment to H 4575 establishing a sick leave bank for Meridyth L. Reith, an employee of the Department of Environment Protection and ordered the bill as amended to third reading, then engrossed it.
BILLERICA CIVIL SERVICE: The Senate ordered to third reading and engrossed H 4391 exempting certain clerical positions from the civil service law in the town of Billerica.
MILFORD ALCOHOL: The Senate ordered to third reading and engrossed H 4937 to authorize the town of Milford to grant a license for the sale of all alcoholic beverages not to be drunk on the premises
Obviously our legislators are too lazy to be bothered with most of the business we elected them to attend to, and are willing to let others push their bills through unchallenged.
Legislators, public officials, all in the tank on informal sessions
Everybody goes along. It's an eerie kind of conspiracy against the public, bolstering the longstanding reputation of corruption in Massachusetts politics.
Last year, soon after the "Move Over" law was passed in informal sessions, MassResistance went up and down the halls and pressed the media, public officials, and others about whether informal sessions are legal and constitutional.
As we last year, here are some of the answers we got:
It's time for the people to take this into their own hands.