Should the State House be Passing Legislation While Closed to the Public?
The title of the article is a question that is starting to be a topic of discussion around the country. It is also not limited to the second Amendment community. We have heard rumblings from a variety of different people and groups throughout the last four or five months.
The question was further compounded in Massachusetts this past session. During my entire tenure at GOAL, and even before that, the legislature always stopped formal sessions on July 31st. At this point they would focus on elections. They still had informal sessions for innocuous bills and could call a formal for something emergency related. This past session was the first time the legislature worked until January. Even then, they worked until very early the next morning passing legislation.
The reason for staying in operation was supposedly because the budget had not been passed and emergency COVID law might have to be passed. It turned out that several other things were passed as well. None of which had any bearing on our issues, but the question remains.
One great concern is that the State House is not open to the citizens and has not been for around nine months. There also seems to be no end to this restriction in the near future. The Massachusetts State House has always been considered “The Peoples’ Building”. Especially during formal session days, the building was always alive with people and various groups “working the building” as we say. Those were the times for groups and even individual citizens to catch the attention of a great number of legislators. That is not the case any longer.
Like most businesses these days, the legislature is working remotely for the most part. A skeleton crew of staff and elected officials man the chambers while the bulk of legislators and staff are on the phones or video conferences at home. This also drastically changes the interaction between legislators themselves, but the greatest concern is still citizen access to the process. Sure, you can still make phone calls or emails, but there is no replacement for being there in person.
The other problem that appears in these conversations is, what incentive does the legislature have to fix it. If you were a legislator and no longer had to drive 2 – 3 hours each way for an 11 AM formal session that was delayed until 4 PM and lasted until midnight, would you want to open the State House as fast as you could?
Even though citizens can log on and watch these sessions on-line, currently the system is working in a little more than a bit of a vacuum right now. Is there any sign of these over-all COVID restrictions being lifted anytime soon? If there are, we have not seen them. Even federal court judge Woodlock asked in the case against Massachusetts [Can the State tell the court what temporary means, because we don’t know anymore?]
This is a major question that the citizenry and the legislature may have to grapple with a lot sooner than we may think.