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BOSTON — Late Tuesday afternoon, the Joint Committee on Rules issued a favorable report on S.1963, An Act to provide sunlight to state government. This bill is a top legislative priority for Act on Mass, a progressive advocacy group and good governance watchdog focused on the Massachusetts Legislature.
Shining Light on Legislative Votes
Known among activists as the Sunlight Act, this comprehensive legislation includes several transparency reforms, including requiring all recorded committee votes to be posted on the Legislature’s website, requiring that committee hearings be scheduled at least a week in advance, making written testimony submitted to committees publicly available, and subjecting the Governor’s Office to the state’s public records law.
“We could not be more thrilled to see the Committee move this bill forward in the legislative process,” said Act on Mass executive director Erin Leahy. “Transparency is really a democracy issue. If you can’t see how your lawmakers are voting or who is influencing them, never mind if you don’t have enough notice to testify at a hearing, how are you supposed to meaningfully participate in the lawmaking process?” She continued, “The Sunlight Act would go a long way toward opening up our state government to the voices of everyday people. Today is a great day for our movement.”
The Massachusetts State House is consistently ranked among the least transparent statehouses in the country. Along with a growing movement of advocates, researchers, as well as current and former legislators, Act on Mass pinpoints the state government’s lack of transparency as a cause of the Legislature’s inaction on a number of popular progressive issues.
“I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Rules Co-chairs Senator Joan Lovely and Representative William Galvin for favorably reporting out S. 1963, An Act to provide sunlight to state government, known as the Sunlight Act, that I am very proud to file this session,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Marlborough). “Thank you to Act on Mass and the Indivisible Mass Coalition for prioritizing this key transparency bill. I am a firm believer that the more information the public has about legislation on Beacon Hill, and the legislative process, the more responsive elected officials will be to their constituents.”
Act on Mass was joined by Indivisible Mass Coalition on Tuesday for a Lobby Day at the State House at which participants met with their lawmakers to advocate for the Sunlight Act among other bills. The bill’s lead sponsor, Senator Jamie Eldridge, was the keynote speaker at the event.
Popular Support for Transparency
One element of the bill, making committee votes publicly available on the Legislature’s website, is supported by 87% of Massachusetts voters according to a nonbinding policy question that was on the ballot in 35 districts over the course of 2020 and 2022. Despite their broad popularity across the political spectrum, transparency measures have struggled up until now to gain traction in the Legislature where taking a position against Leadership is known to come with a risk of retaliation.
“This favorable report is a sign that the State House is feeling the pressure of our movement,” said Brenna Ransden, organizing director of Act on Mass. “And it’s not just constituents who stand to benefit from increased government transparency; this bill is also about empowering rank-and-file lawmakers to be the strongest possible advocates for their legislation. We look forward to working with allies inside and outside the building to get this critical bill across the finish line.”
About Act on Mass
Act on Mass is the leading organization advocating for transparency and accountability in the Massachusetts State House. In November of 2020, they launched The People’s House Campaign–their initiative advocating for three pro-democracy amendments to the state house rules which has received the endorsement of dozens of progressive groups and over 4000 volunteers. This session, Act on Mass launched the Sunlight Agenda, their first-ever legislative campaign for state house reform, which includes the namesake Sunlight Act. In addition to their campaigns, they operate as a legislative watchdog and keep their members informed about state house goings-on via a weekly newsletter called the Saturday Scoop.