BOSTON -- Brushing aside calls for more transparency, the House of Representatives rejected proposed reforms aimed at prying open Beacon Hill's opaque workings.
On Wednesday, the House voted to approve new rules for the two-year session, which got underway last month. But lawmakers rejected several amendments that would have required legislative committees to post testimony submitted in support of opposition to bills and publicly disclose how lawmakers voted on pending legislation.
Open government groups blasted Democratic House lawmakers who rejected the changes.
"This vote was a blatant signal that representatives care more about power than their constituents," said Ryan Daulton, campaign manager for Act on Mass, a coalition of groups and unions that advocated for the reforms.
"It's shocking that many of the arguments against the amendment blamed constituents for our lack of understanding of how the Statehouse functions, when that's precisely what we are asking for -- to stop being shut out of the legislative process," he added.
The Senate adopted its rules a week ago, including some of the changes recommended by open government groups. The House agreed with some of the Senate's changes, including a rule that lawmakers and the public get 72 hours notice before a bill comes up for a vote.
But a push for additional changes in the House fell flat.
Of 15 proposed amendments to the session's rule book by House lawmakers, only one was adopted after more than an hour of debate Wednesday. That changes the wording of "Board of Selectmen" to "Select Board" in the 45-page bill to reflect the gender neutral term.
Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-Georgetown, was among the House's GOP minority that joined with a handful of Democrats to back the transparency rules.
He said the House's reluctance to open up its workings to more scrutiny is a "disservice to the public."
"It's really disappointing," said Mirra, who, with state Rep. James Kelcourse, R-Amesbury, voted against the rules. "Every other state in the country has found a way to make committee votes and testimony public."
Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, was among a majority who voted to approve the rules and argues the House adopted a number of transparency reforms.
"There were some major steps forward taken by the House in the rules we adopted, and I think at the end of the day we're going to see more transparency," she said.
Campbell said she supports making committee votes public, but pointed out the rejected amendment would have only published the names of lawmakers who voted against bills in committee, which made it "impracticable." She was the only Democrat who voted "present" on that amendment, which signifies a neutral stance.
"Much of the amendment was just not practical, and not in the public's interest," Campbell said.
There are nearly 30 committees in the House of Representatives and Senate, each of which makes its own rules about whether to open its proceedings to the public or disclose votes taken by lawmakers.
Some committees release testimony and votes on bills to reporters and others who seek them, but most requests are ignored.
In many cases, hearings on bills affecting millions of people -- including deliberations on the state's $46 billion budget -- are closed to the press and public.
The lack of transparency has led good government groups to label the Massachusetts Legislature one of the most secretive governing bodies in the nation.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.