By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE

Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives on eight roll calls and local senators on four roll calls from the week of Jan. 21-25.

All roll calls were on proposed changes in the rules of the Legislature. Most of the proposals were offered by Republicans, who in most cases voted for the new rules while Democrats opposed them.

PUT JOINT COMMITTEE ROLL CALLS ON WEBSITE (H 2015): House 29-126, rejected a rule that would require joint committee votes cast by legislators on bills heard by their committees to be posted on the Legislature's website. Current rules require these committee votes to be kept at the Statehouse in the offices of the committee and be available for public inspection upon reasonable notice and during regular office hours.

Supporters of the new rule said this would simply give people quick and easy access to the committee votes of their legislators. They noted that under current rules, a person has to drive to Boston during business hours in order to obtain this information. They said requiring a trip of perhaps hundreds of miles is ridiculous and archaic.

Opponents offered no arguments.

A "yes" vote is for posting the roll calls on the website. A "no" vote is against posting.

Rep. Jennifer Benson, no; Rep. Sheila Harrington, yes

REQUIRE TWO-THIRDS VOTE TO APPROVE TAX HIKES (H 2013): House 29-124, rejected a rule that would prohibit a tax hike from taking effect unless it is approved on a roll call vote by two-thirds of the members of the House. Current rules require only a majority vote.

Supporters of the new rule said that the higher threshold would protect the interests of taxpayers and ensure that a tax hike is absolutely necessary and has broad support.

Opponents of the new rule said it is difficult to get a two-thirds majority to support a tax hike and argued that the requirement should not be any higher for a tax hike than for any other legislation.

A "yes" vote is for requiring a two-thirds vote for a tax hike. A "no" vote is against the requirement.

Rep. Jennifer Benson, no; Rep. Sheila Harrington, yes

RAINY DAY FUND (H 2015): House 29-126, rejected a rule that would require a two-thirds instead of a majority vote of the Legislature in order to spend money from the state's Rainy Day Fund. The fund is a stabilization fund established by the Legislature to ensure that money is put aside in case of an economic downturn. The money can only be spent to make up for revenue shortfalls or federal funding reductions and when events threaten the health, safety or welfare of citizens.

Supporters of the new rule said the two-thirds requirement would ensure that the money is used only when absolutely necessary. They noted that the higher hurdle would make it difficult to raid the fund unless there is a real emergency and overwhelming legislative support.

Opponents said a two-thirds requirement is too strict and nearly impossible to obtain. They noted that it only takes a majority vote to place money into the fund and argued that it should take the same vote to spend it.

A "yes" vote is for the two-thirds requirement. A "no" vote is against the two-thirds requirement.

Rep. Jennifer Benson, no; Rep. Sheila Harrington, yes

CONFERENCE COMMITTEES (H 2015): House 29-125, rejected a rule requiring that a conference committee report be available to the public by 1 p.m. the day before it is considered by the Legislature. Current rules require it to be available at 8 p.m. the night before a session. A conference committee drafts a compromise version of legislation when the House and Senate approve different versions of bills, including the state budget.

Supporters of the new rule said it will ensure that legislators have an opportunity to read and understand the multibillion dollar state budget and other conference committee bills prior to being asked to blindly vote on them.

Amendment opponents said the current rule is sufficient.

A "yes" vote is for the 1 p.m. deadline. A "no" vote is against it.

Rep. Jennifer Benson, no; Rep. Sheila Harrington, yes

ALLOW USE OF CELL PHONES IN HOUSE CHAMBER (H 2013): House 29-126, rejected a rule that would allow members to use their cellphones in the House chamber as long as they use them in a "quiet and courteous fashion." Current House rules prohibit the use of any cellphones.

Supporters of the new rule said that cellphones are no longer a novelty but are an integral part of communicating. They noted cellphones are now also used to send silent emails and texts and find information on the Internet.

Opponents said the ringing of cellphones and the ensuing conversations ruin the decorum of the chamber.

A "yes" vote is for allowing cellphones. A "no" vote is against allowing them.

Rep. Jennifer Benson, no; Rep. Sheila Harrington, yes

SPEAKER ONLY VOTES IN A TIE (H 2013): House 22-131, rejected a rule that would prohibit the speaker of the House from voting on a roll call except in the case of a tie. Current rules allow the speaker to vote on all roll calls.

Supporters of the new rule argued that members often rush into the chamber to vote, sometimes without having heard the debate. They argued that some of these members simply look at the roll call board and vote the same way the speaker does.

Opponents offered no arguments.

A "yes" vote is for allowing the speaker to vote only on tie votes. A "no" vote is against it.

Rep. Jennifer Benson, no; Rep. Sheila Harrington, yes

EQUAL REPRESENTATION ON ETHICS COMMITTEE (H 2013): House 29-126, rejected a rule that would change the current 11-member Ethics Committee to an eight-member one that would include four Democrats and four Republicans. Current rules provide for seven Democrats and only four Republicans on the 11-member committee.

Supporters of the new rule said a balanced membership, regardless of which party controls the House, would create a truly bipartisan committee and ensure that investigations into any representative's or employee's conduct are fair and nonpartisan. They noted that the U.S. Congress' Ethics Committee has an equal number of members from both parties.

Opponents said no one has challenged the fairness or integrity of the current Ethics Committee with its Democratic majority. They noted it is illogical to have an equal number of members from each party on the committee when the makeup of the House membership is 129 Democrats and 29 Republicans.

A "yes" vote is for the rule requiring that the Ethics Committee include an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. A "no" vote is against it.

Rep. Jennifer BensonNo; Rep. Sheila HarringtonYes

ADOPT LOCAL AID RESOLUTIONS BY MARCH 15 (H 2015): House 29-126, rejected a rule that would require the House and Senate to annually adopt by March 15 resolutions stating the minimum amount of local aid the state will give each city and town for that fiscal year.

Supporters of the new rule said many towns craft their budgets at town meetings in March and April and need to know as soon as possible how much they will receive from the state. They argued it is unfair and irresponsible to expect communities to assemble their budgets without this information.

Amendment opponents said the Legislature should inform cities and towns as soon as possible but should not have its hands tied by some arbitrary date. They noted things often change in a matter of days and argued that the Legislature does not know in March what the state's financial situation will be when a budget is finally approved in May or June.

A "yes" vote is for the March deadline. A "no" vote is against it.

Rep. Jennifer Benson, no; Rep. Sheila Harrington, yes

SESSIONS BEYOND MIDNIGHT (S 7): Senate 4-35, rejected a rule requiring a unanimous vote in order for any Senate session to continue beyond midnight. Current law requires a two-thirds vote to go past midnight.

Amendment supporters said requiring unanimous consent will virtually put an end to post-midnight sessions and argued it is unnecessary and irresponsible to work while legislators are exhausted and taxpayers are asleep.

Amendment opponents said the amendment is undemocratic and will allow one legislator to end Senate debate and action.

A "yes" vote is for requiring a unanimous vote to continue beyond midnight. A "no" vote is against it.

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, no; Sen. James Eldridge, no; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, no

PROHIBIT "PAIRED VOTES" (S 7): Senate 4-35, rejected a rule that would ban, except when the senator is absent because of military service or a physical incapacity, the current Senate practice of "pairing votes."

This pairing process allows an absent senator to express how he or she would have voted on a roll call. Under the arrangement, the absent senator contacts a senator who is present and plans to vote the opposite way. The present senator agrees to "pair" his or her vote with the vote of the absent senator. Neither vote is counted in the official total -- they cancel each other out.

Supporters of the new rule said this process allows both senators to be unofficially recorded on the roll call.

Opponents said it is illogical and misleading to have a member "recorded" on a vote if he or she was not in the chamber. They also noted it confuses the public, which often thinks both senators were present.

A "yes" vote is for banning paired votes. A "no" vote is against the ban.

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, no; Sen. James Eldridge, no; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, no

7 DAYS NOTICE FOR TAX HIKE LEGISLATION (S 7): Senate 4-35, rejected a rule requiring that any measure that proposes an increase in taxes be available in print and posted on the Senate website at least seven days prior to consideration.

Supporters of the new rule said that legislators and taxpayers should have at least a week to read and understand all proposed tax hikes.

Opponents said current rules already provide procedures, including a motion to postpone, to delay consideration of a tax hike for many days.

A "yes" vote is for seven days notice. A "no" vote is against it.

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, no; Sen. James Eldridge, no; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, no

SENATE ROLL CALLS ON WEBSITE WITHIN TWO DAYS (S 7): Senate 39-0, approved a rule requiring the Senate clerk by May 1, 2013, to post the results, including the bill title and number, of all roll call votes "in a manner easily identifiable, searchable and conspicuously located" no longer than two days after the vote is taken.

Supporters said citizens should have quick and easy access to this information on how their senators vote.

A "Yes" vote is for the rule.

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, yes; Sen. James Eldridge, yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, yes

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

$34.8 BILLION FISCAL 2014 BUDGET: Gov. Deval Patrick filed a $34.8 billion fiscal 2014 state budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 -- a 6.9 percent increase over last year. The package includes a hike in the income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent to support education initiatives and a cut in the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent and dedicating all of that revenue to support transportation projects; doubling the personal exemptions; and eliminating a number of itemized deductions.

Other provisions include repealing the exemption of candy and soda from the sales tax; increasing the cigarette tax by $1 to $3.51 per pack and hiking taxes on cigars, smokeless tobacco and loose tobacco; capping the film tax credit at $40 million per year; and reinstating the deduction for life insurance and annuity interest.

The House will hold hearings on the governor's package and then draft its own version that will be debated and amended on the House floor. The Senate will follow suit with its own draft, and a House-Senate conference committee will eventually craft a plan that will be presented to the House and Senate for consideration and then sent to the governor.

MORE FAILED RULES CHANGES: Many other proposals to change the rules and operation of the Legislature were defeated, including requiring the broadcasting of all informal and formal Senate sessions online and making a digital copy of the sessions available to public access television. Currently only formal sessions are broadcast.

Other defeated changes include allowing use of electronic devices, except for cellphones, in the Senate chamber and providing that committee members, instead of the speaker, pick the chairs and vice chairs of committees.

Several amendments were also withdrawn by their sponsor prior to consideration. These include installing Wi-Fi in the House chamber; automatically adjourning the House until the next day if House debate and voting does not begin within 30 minutes of the scheduled time; requiring representatives to report any illegal practice of "phantom voting" in which a member votes for another member who is absent; and publicly censuring any member who casts a phantom vote. Current rules leave the punishment up to the House.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK'S SESSION? During the week of Jan. 21-25, the House met for a total of five hours and 46 minutes while the Senate met for a total of two hours and 39 minutes.

Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at bob@beaconhillrollcall.com.