postheadericon Beacon Hill Blotter: Democracy and Duty

State House Room 167

My new State House office... and what it must have looked like in a WI State Senate office last week.

 Yesterday, I engaged in a brief dialogue via Twitter with two people who support the actions taken by the 14 Wisconsin State Senators who, this past week, left the state in order to avoid a vote that would adjust state employee pension and health care contribution.

Specifically, Governor Walker of WI has proposed that state employees to pay 5.8% of their salaries toward their pensions (they pay almost nothing now) and he wants them to cover 12.6% of their health care premiums (their share would go up from $79 a month to about $200; the average private-sector employee pays about $330). Coming from the private-sector, myself, I believe that everyone needs to make concessions to help our states and country get out of the financial disarray that we’re stuck in.

But that’s not what was I debated online Friday morning – I was appalled by the fact that elected officials abdicated their duty to report to their state house for the vote. I asked, within the boundary of 140 characters regulated by the Twitter service, whether that was the true practice of democracy. I was challenged by a Massachusetts liberal (ML) and a Wisconsin activist (WA)

(ML): In WI I think you confuse democracy with duty and ignore that their actions are taken in free country.

RepGeoffDiehl: Their legislative duty is to all get on a bus and leave the state? Free country, to be sure. Wise decision?

(ML): exactly! It’s a question of duty not democracy

(WA): it is Democracy. Fighting back using the only tools you’re given #killthebill

RepGeoffDiehl: But when legislation or court actions backs your cause, democratic procedure is back on the table. Convenient.

Having been sworn in as an elected official, bound to represent the best interests of the citizens on the Commonwealth, I think not only find the continued flight of the Senators appalling, but possibly an impeachable offense.

The minute you are elected to office, you become a member of a body charged with the introduction, debate, and passage (or repeal) of laws and a budget that govern your state (or country). That is it – that is ALL you are responsible for. All the additional pomp and circumstance, all the advocacy for groups you personally favor… all that is secondary to your primary duty to represent your constituents. That is what you were elected to do, it is what you’re given a staff to work towards, and it is what you’re paid to do. Period.

If you happen to represent a segment of the state (or country) that is sometimes on the losing end of an issue, it shouldn’t mean that you will, at that moment, decide that it’s no longer important to follow the rules and procedure that allow the governing body to function towards its primary goal. It’s the adage of “taking the ball and going home.” A political stunt that denigrates the integrity of the oath of office is just not acceptable.

The 14 Wisconsin State Senators should be impeached, in my opinion, and if not, they should fired by voters in the next election. Then they can spend as much time in the neighboring states for as long as they want. They certainly don’t respect Wisconsin enough to accept the duty for which they were charged.

The Rep. Calendar – Past & Future

Monday (2/14): Had constituent meetings in the district office in the AM. Later, at the State House, House Ways & Means Chairman Brian Dempsey held an informal committee meeting to meet and talk and we were joined by Speaker DeLeo. Made it back home that evening in time to get flowers for Valentine’s Day with KathyJo.

Tuesday (2/15): Spent the entire day at the district office, working with the great volunteer staff, followed by spending an hour at the East Bridgewater Town Hall to meet with residents.

Wednesday (2/16): The House & Senate Ways & Means committees met for the first of a series of hearings. We met in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House and heard from the Governor’s office of Administration & Finance, followed by Attorney General Coakley, Auditor Bump and Secretary of State Galvin. Our 2nd formal House session also convened to vote on a freeze for the state’s unemployment insurance rate, which was unanimously passed.

Thursday (2/17): Had three meetings in the district office, starting at 7:30am up to 11am, then headed to State House for private meeting with House Ways & Means Chair Brian Dempsey to review priorities for session. Also got State House office (finally!) – Room 167 (see photo above).

Ways and Means Hearing

Ways & Means Hearing, 2/18/11 - I'm 4th from Chair Walz (center, purple blouse) to the left, writing.

Friday (2/18): The 2nd Joint Ways & Means hearing, held at the Raab Auditiorium of the Boston Public Library. Heard from all departments of the state’s Health & Human Services.

Monday (2/21): Presidents’ Day (& the beginning of school vacation week). I’ll be at the State House office, catching up on legislative initiatives and continuing to get office functional.

Tuesday (2/22): 10am W&M hearing at UMass Amherst, to review budgets related to Education (Dept. of Early Education and Care , Dept. Elementary and Secondary Education & Dept. of Higher Education) and Local Aid. Will be back to Whitman for district hour at the Town Hall, from 5:30 – 6:30pm.

Wednesday (2/23): Am in Fitchburg for the next W&M hearing (addtl. Depts. in Health and Human Services), starting at 10am.

Thursday (2/24): Have a series of meetings at the district office (529 Washington Street – call 781.261.3103 if you want to set an appointment).

Friday (2/25): 10am W&M hearing at Massasoit Conference Center (Brockton) to hear budgets for Public Safety (District Attorneys, Sheriffs) & the Judiciary.

Legislative Filings: As promised in last week’s blog entry, I want to explain to you the legislation I’ve filed or co-sponsored for the 187th Session of the General Court. I’ll chip away by starting with my own filings this week, followed by co-sponsored bills in future blogs:

HD01868: An Act Relative to Taxation
- The bill proposes a sensible reform to the way taxes are collected in the Commonwealth.  Massachusetts is currently one of the few states where taxpayers are forced to pay for abortions.  This bill would give taxpayer the ability to opt out of paying for abortions and instead have the same portion of their tax dollars go to funding the state’s Baby Safe Haven program.

HD01873: An Act Providing for Homeowner Consolidation and Relief
- I will have much more on this down the road, but this is the signature piece of legislation I’m working on currently. To briefly summarize, we as a state and country are facing a predicted wave of foreclosures over the next few years due to impending mortgage loans, specifically ARMS, which will come due at a time when home values are still depressed and people’s income has yet to recover. My proposal is to offer under Mass Housing (the same department that oversees 1st time loans) an emergency mortgage product for people who are still able to make payments can prove that they are on track to foreclosure if not allowed to refinance under adjusted guidelines. There will be NO cost to the state and this will actually be a win-win for banks and borrowers. The borrower can relieve some pressure on their monthly payments and the bank reduces the risk of being stuck with yet another foreclosed property.

HD01904: An Act to Restore/Refund the Quinn Bill
- The cities and towns of Massachusetts willingly entered into an agreement with police unions based on a law passed by the state to reimburse 50% of the costs to provide continued education to officers. In 2009, the state reduced their support to just 10% and in 2010, the cut the support to 0%. A promise made should be a promise kept and the state should not leave unfunded mandates in the laps of towns already struggling with the cuts to local aid.

HD01936 & HD01951: An Act Regulating Deposits for Function and Hall Rentals
-  This idea was brought to me by a constituent and seemed to make a lot of sense. Currently, function halls ask for sizable deposits for people looking to rent them for weddings and special occasions. In cases where ownership changes hands, many people find that their deposits have gone with the previous owner, so this protects the consumer by requiring deposits to be held in an escrow account so insure the safe handling of the deposit.

HD01954: An Act Relative to Local Aid
- As promised on the campaign trail, the first piece of legislation I would file would be to move Local Aid from “discretionary spending” to mandatory costs that get funded first, along with other obligatory costs that are paid in the budget before any additional new programs or tax incentives are considered. (The reason this item is numbered higher than 5 other bills is because I asked House Council to draft this, so when they finally filed it, it was after several other of my bills were entered by my staff)

HD01960: An Act Establishing a Commission to Study Dam Safety that Exists in Both the Towns of Abington and Brockton
- This bill is just a mechanism for handling a specific issue that relates to a dam that straddles the towns of Abington & Brockton. It may or may not proceed based on the best course of action determined to deal with the issue. The bill acts as a placeholder in the event that an act by the legislature is required to define the course of action needed.

A long post this week, I know, but there was a lot of information to convey. There’s a lot more to come and I look forward to your feedback and help with the work it’s going to take to get the Commonwealth back on track.  I thank you, as always, for the opportunity to serve in the legislature and to be your voice on Beacon Hill!



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