2016 is going to be an important year for democracy, with a presidential election occurring at a time when more people across the country than ever are expressing concerns about money in politics, voting rights, and trust in government.
2016 is also the second and final year of our state’s current legislative session. This means activity on Beacon Hill will be high, with interests of all sorts vying for attention in a limited amount of time before the last votes occur on July 31. Common Cause Massachusetts is determined to make sure the issues of open, honest, and accountable government are among those that reach the Governor’s desk.
Here are three of our biggest legislative highlights for 2016:
Public Records Reform
In November 2015, after an intense legislative campaign, our state House of Representatives passed a public records reform bill. It wasn’t perfect, but it is a first step towards increasing transparency and accountability in our state.
In 2016, the ball is in the Senate’s court. With recent news like the massive failure of our public records system in a statewide test of responses to freedom of information requests, the pressure is on for a strong bill that truly pushes reform forward. We will work hard to ensure the Senate bill has everything our state needs, and that the final legislation that goes to the Governor is as strong as possible.
2014 saw our state make big strides with the Massachusetts Disclosure Act, which put us at the national forefront of transparency for outside spending groups in elections. Loopholes in the law have allowed some groups to continue using secret money, however, and we are now asking our representatives on Beacon Hill to tighten the law to ensure greater accountability in state politics. This is critical to creating informed voters and building trust in government. It will be important to achieve before the November 2016 election as well, or we may see more secret money flood into Massachusetts.
Automatic Voter Registration
Just in December, a new bill was filed to create an automatic voter registration system in Massachusetts. This is a cutting-edge reform designed to increase political participation and strengthen voting rights by shifting the voter registration from an opt-in system to an opt-out one. Automatic voter registration “could serve to alleviate the power of the donor class” and enhance the vibrancy of our democracy.
In 2015, both California and Oregon adopted this reform. 2016 will be the first time the issue is considered in Massachusetts, but support is out there, and we look forward to testifying and advocating to the legislature as opportunities arise this year.