We Need Sunshine – on Our Legislature

Allison Werder (far right), candidate for State Rep. in the 2nd Hampden District. (Submitted photo)

One of the many reasons people are frustrated with politics today is because they see politicians holding themselves to different standards than the people they are paid to serve. They impose health care laws on everyone but make themselves exempt, they give themselves a 40 percent pay raise while the average salaries have remained stagnant for years, and they drive around in cars with custom license plates denoting that they are somehow special and should be treated differently than the rest of us.

A prime example of this here in Massachusetts is a 2016 update to our Open Meeting and Public Records laws that failed to address the fact that our Legislature is exempt from universal transparency laws.

This means that these transparency laws – often referred to as “Sunshine Laws” – apply to all city and town governments across the Commonwealth, but do not apply to our House and Senate. When they were reforming the laws, instead of ending the exemption they created a “Special Legislative Commission” to study the issue. The report was due at the end of 2017 and to no surprise to anyone they extended their own deadline to December of this year.

On April 3, the Pioneer Institute, which is an independent, non-partisan research organization, sent a 10-page open letter to the Chairs of the Legislative Commission to outline precisely why they believe the Legislative exceptions are unconstitutional. As noted in their release, “we reviewed the state’s constitution and existing statutes and concluded that the legislative exemptions from public records law and open meeting laws are unconstitutional.”

Upon analysis, they concluded that the current lack of transparency violates the constitutional principle that the Legislature should be accountable to citizens “at all times.”

Exemptions like this chip away at the public trust of our elected officials and serve as real evidence that elected officials say certain things during campaign season – buzzwords like “transparency” and “accountability” – and turn a blind eye once elected.

We deserve better from our elected officials. People should be able to rely upon the people we elect to represent us and to keep the promises they make to us during election season. We deserve representatives who work as hard as we do, who are accountable to us and do not delay efforts or find ways to hide their performance or shirk accountability.

Hopefully by the end of this year the Commission will do the right thing and recommend that this preferential Legislative treatment comes to an end. I would like nothing more than to have my first vote as a new Representative in 2019 be to require transparency in our Legislature. It’s springtime in Massachusetts. We could all use a little “Sunshine” on our legislative activities.

– Submitted by Allison Werder – Candidate, State Rep., 2nd Hampden District