By Gintautas Dumcius
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, MAY 1, 2015…. House Republicans this week repeatedly opted not to support requests for roll call votes on several controversial budget amendments, prompting one outspoken GOP rep to question their level of engagement on the spending bill.
As Democrats worked largely in unison on their $38.1 billion budget, Republicans passed up requests by their GOP colleagues to force the full House to take recorded votes on controversial budget amendments.
In the minority in both branches, House and Senate Republicans over the years have used recorded votes to force individual Democrats to go on the record on issues, in some cases using those votes to draw distinctions for voters during campaigns.
Gov. Charlie Baker proposed a $38.1 billion budget, and House lawmakers spent three days altering it, largely behind closed doors. Senate Democrats plan to take up their budget in mid-May.
Over more than 28 hours, House legislators dispensed with hundreds of amendments, with most decisions made through voice votes or unanimous consent.
Lawmakers took just two roll call votes on Monday: one on an amendment by Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton) on the MBTA retirement fund and another on a consolidated amendment dealing with transportation, state administration and constitutional officers.
O’Connell’s amendment on the MBTA retirement fund, which would have required the fund to post minutes of board meetings online, failed on a 38-116 vote.
O’Connell pushed for seven other amendments — dealing with the MBTA retirement fund, state rules and regulations and the MBTA’s Ride paratransit program — but was unable to get enough fellow Republicans to stand with her and request a roll call vote. A similar scene played out on Wednesday, as lawmakers neared the end of their deliberations.
The amendments failed on voice votes, often while House members were away from the floor in a lounge privately debating other amendments which were mashed into mega-amendments by top House Democrats.
“I think it’s unfortunate that roll call votes aren’t being taken and really, the biggest losers here are the voters and the taxpayers,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell declined to offer her opinion on why she didn’t pull together enough support from within the Republican caucus, which grew to 35 members after last year’s elections.
O’Connell is part of a small group of conservative lawmakers who last year challenged Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading). But Jones received a vote of confidence from the caucus and this year easily secured the votes to stay in the position he’s held since 2002.
Rep. Bradford Hill, an Ipswich Republican and assistant minority leader, said lawmakers aren’t always aware of which amendments are coming up for debate.
“People had been in meetings all day yesterday and unfortunately there had been no communication to us that she wanted to have these votes, so we were in meetings and not up in the chamber,” he said.
“We keep hearing about this big split. But I don’t think it’s as big as people are talking about,” Hill added. “It’s just everybody was just running around doing different things, unfortunately.”
Hill said there will be opportunities to discuss the subjects of some of the amendments — the Ride and the MBTA retirement fund — when lawmakers take up Gov. Baker’s legislation to overhaul the MBTA.
Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, a North Attleborough Republican and second assistant minority leader, said she didn’t remember “the individual circumstances” when asked about the lack of roll call votes on O’Connell’s amendments on Monday. “Maybe I was distracted,” she said.
Republicans who backed O’Connell’s budget amendment proposals include Whitman’s Geoff Diehl, Billerica’s Marc Lombardo, Uxbridge’s Kevin Kuros, Andover’s Jim Lyons and Norwell’s David DeCoste, among others, according to Diehl.
Diehl’s amendment on a privately funded Olympics also failed to garner enough support for a roll call vote and was rejected on a voice vote on Monday.
“I don’t know why people aren’t engaged, I don’t know why they’re not wanting to get roll call votes on some very good amendments and amendments that would make government more transparent, that will help grow jobs, that will help the taxpayers,” O’Connell said.
“We just know that when you upset the apple cart, when you don’t go with the flow, it is not well received,” she added.