Szczepaniak Calls for Budget and Rules Reform
DALTON, Mass. — Thomas Szczepaniak, candidate for state representative in the 2nd Berkshire District, is calling for reform of legislative rules and budget debate for the upcoming House session beginning in January.
“Far too much of the people’s business is done behind closed doors and out of public view on Beacon Hill,” Szczepaniak said. “Many of the biggest decisions at the State House are made in secret.”
Because the Legislature has exempted itself from the state’s open-meeting and public records laws, deliberations are often done in private and hidden from the public. Szczepaniak noted that because one of the first orders of business to be considered by the 187th General Court will be the adoption of rules governing House sessions for the 2011-2012 term, “there will be an immediate opportunity to institute some reforms for more open state government.”
Szczepaniak said he would favor open party caucuses as exist in Colorado, Montana, Vermont and other states. “Clearly, legislators gather at caucuses to discuss the public's business and when they do, the public has a right to observe these discussions and to be informed about what happens at those meetings."
Szczepaniak listed several other reforms as top priorities including:
*Requiring recorded roll call votes on any tax or fee increase.
*Ending so-called ‘consolidated amendments’ to the annual state budget which are negotiated in back rooms off the House chamber which are not accessible to the public and the media.
*Streamlining the appropriations for the state court system to allow judicial managers to allocate resources where they are most needed.
“The recent patronage scandal in the Probation Department is yet another reminder that we need to stop micro-managing the judicial branch through the budget process. We are now the only state where the Legislature uses the budget process to exert control over the judiciary. Our judiciary is a separate, independent branch of government but is treated like a legislative step-child,” Szczepaniak said.
"Each court unit (superior, district, juvenile, housing, probate and family, etc.) should be given a line-item appropriation and be allowed to allocate those resources as judicial managers see fit rather than the Legislature dictating the funding levels and staffing decisions for each court across the state. The recent Court Management Advisory Board report called our state Probation Department ‘dysfunctional’ and I favor giving power back to judges to hire and supervise key court personnel including probation officers and assistant clerks," he continued.