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January 28, 2013

Accountability keys State House rules talks

BOSTON — As the state’s two legislative chambers prepare to debate tax increases, new gun laws and additional spending on transportation and education in the new session, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester and other Republicans are once again seeking to wrest some of the lawmaking power from Democrats through proposed changes to the rules.

House Republicans have proposed a bevy of amendments to House rules and joint rules, which the Democratic leadership submitted without any changes from last session. Amendments to the proposed Senate rules are due at noon on Wednesday.

Some of the Republican proposals reflect the party’s ideology, suggesting changes to make it more difficult to raise taxes and requiring a full explanation of earmarks.

The Republican suggestions also reveal the party’s frustration as the minority party working with an overwhelming majority of Democrats whose method of legislating is often done outside of public view. House Republicans want to ban Speaker Robert DeLeo from voting, except in cases where he can break a tie, to theoretically prevent lawmakers from taking their cues from the speaker’s votes.

“Historically, I would say most of our proposals aren’t embraced by the majority,” House Minority Leader Brad Jones told the News Service. “In past years, some have. We’ll see if the majority’s willing to embrace some of these proposals. That would be great.”

The rules are also malleable in a way that laws aren’t. Hardly a session goes by without the House or Senate suspending one rule or another.

Amendments suggested by Jones include a requirement for a 24-hour period between when a bill is released by a committee and when it reaches the floor for an up-or-down vote, and opening up all formal sessions to audio and video recording for commercial and public radio and television.

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