First off, let's find General Laws. A search on Mass.gov for “2006 General Laws 2006 Official” yielded a helpful “Quick Link” to General Laws.
So far so good.
The General Laws are listed in five parts. Looking at the text of this ammendment, we seem to be looking for Chapter 64H, which according to this page should be found in: Part I, ADMINISTRATION OF THE GOVERNMENT, Chapters 1 through 182
Excellent. Scanning down… CHAPTER 64H. TAX ON RETAIL SALES OF CERTAIN TANGIBLE PERSONAL PROPERTY.
Now we're on a roll! Section 6, Section 6, Section 6. Exemptions.
Now what was I loking for? Oh yeah, Subsection (g). This should clear this all up….
(g) Sales of tangible personal property includable in the measure of the excises levied under the provisions of chapters sixty-four A, sixty-four E, sixty-four F and one hundred and thirty-eight.
Okay, so this means that the amendment we're looking up removes the sales tax exemption on one hundred and thirty-eight… whatever that is…
Based on the use of large numbers, I'm guessing that refers to a Chapter in the General Laws. Back to Part I of the General Laws!
So, in the end it all kind of makes sense:
Alcohol/Liquor was among several substances exempted from the sales tax in Massachusetts (including gasoline and special fuels), and this amendment is removing Alcohol/Liquor from that list.
But why can't this stuff be more clearly stated as they are filed?!
I truly believe that if we want to rebuild the public's confidence in government, we need to make this type of information not only public record, but easily accessible, and in plain language!
What do you think?
[Note: This is not meant to pick on Representative Clark, or on this particular amendment! This is just one example of a system that has not been set up for ease of understanding by everyday Massachusetts folks like me!]
[Crossposted from onemassachusetts.org]
Legislation doesn’t have to be easily understood so long as it is precise and specific and no broader than is necessary. If we want to regulate or tax or exempt alcholic beverages or widgets or a thousand other things, I want our legislature to refer, with specificity, to exactly whatever it is they want to get their hands on:
p>Would you rather see this on every amendment? Or a short citation refering to one central source that contains this definition?
p>Making a society function takes work, you know.
Shorter version: Since writing laws takes work, we shouldn’t work to make bills comprehensible because that is too much work. Making them precise is sufficient.
p>It seems to me that, in a one party state, it is all the more important that the legislative process be transparent. Even if that takes more work.
p>Making a society function takes work after all!
…they ARE amending laws.
p>Strike and bold, as detailed below, makes sense – but assumes that legislators write all their own amendments rather than filing what is handed to them (I once worked for the Rep. who ‘wrote’ the bottle bill as a freshman – he freely admitted he had NO idea what it was, but had been handed it by leadership at the time in order to make a nice reputation in Cambridge as a freshman).
p>This is NOT a good thing, and I agree with your premise – but until legislators have days, instead of hours, to read the budget and file amendments I don’t see how transparency can be implemented. Even among legislators who DO read the budgte.
I think it’s harder even that that.
p>Suppose I’m an ill-intentioned legislator. I title my bill “Puppies for Everyone”, the text of the bill strikes certain mysterious paragraphs, and I provide a summary indicating that this bill will grant everyone a puppy. A preamble describes the merits of puppies.
p>The bill passes.
p>Later it is discovered that the text of the bill has nothing to do with puppies. Nothing. Instead it requires all citizens to wear their underpants on their head. Which part of the bill has legal force? The puppy part or the panty part?
p>So it seems to me that someone has to vet (pun intended) the bill to make sure that the summary matches the legalese.
Oh, for the record, I’m a cat person.
Bills go through a lot of stages between being filed and becoming law:
– Clerk’s office assigns bill to committee based on subject
– Committee staff reads and summarizes bill
– Committee holds public hearing
– Committee edits bill (if they want) and sends it out favorably
– Bill goes to House (we’ll assume it’s a House bill) floor for 2nd reading. Bill is passed and sent to 3rd reading.
– Bill goes to the Committee on 3rd Reading, where it’s looked over by counsel to ensure it’s properly drafted.
– Bill returns to House floor for engrossment. Passes and is sent to Senate.
– Senate takes bill up in 2nd reading, passes bill.
– Bill goes to Senate committee on 3rd reading, where it’s reviewed by counsel.
– Bill is passed by senate and engrossed.
– Bill goes back to House where it is passed to be enacted.
– Bill is enacted by Senate
– Bill is sent to Governor to sign. Governor presumably has someone read it before he signs it.
p>And that’s all for a bill that isn’t amended by either chamber, doesn’t have to go through the House or Senate Ways & Means committees, nor needs a conference committee to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions.
p>It’s unlikely that a bill would get through this process with a misleading title and that no one would realize the true effect until it was too late. There are simply too many eyes on the bill at the different stages.
p>That being said, there’s still ample opportunity for poor legislation to get passed, as we saw with the House ethics bill that almost made active citizen have to register as lobbyists if they spent more than 10 hour trying to get a bill or budget item passed.
p>It would be great if there were more public oversight and input into the legislative process, but the flow and quantity of information make that difficult.
Okay, I confess. My tone was a little flip in this posting, but I do think it is clear that I’m not asking for legislation on alcohol tax to redefine alcohol.
What I am suggesting is that we take a look at how this information is organized for easier understanding. Many folks have already left comments with ideas on how this can be accomplished – and let’s not forget that Massachusetts does not operate in a bubble! Just as we should not redefine ‘alcohol,’ we do not have to redefine transparency!
One example of a somewhat more-easily navigated legislative repository is Wisconsin’s Searchable Infobase. The public, online database can be searched for text, bill pages include the actual bill text (in full glory with line items and legalese), along with a more easily-understood ‘Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau’ and a link to its Bill History (1st, 2nd, 3rd Readings, Public Hearings, etc.).
Organizations are out there already looking at these issues. A couple of examples include:
I was reacting to the School House Rock schtick in your post. I agree there are things we can do to improve the legislative process and increase public input. But let’s not pretend it should be as easy to going to wikipedia, either. On the federal level, THOMAS is fairly easy to navigate but it still takes a lot of work to see what Congress is up to.
They could always use the “strike and bold” method whereby the paragraph or section being amended is written in full in its current form. Then a strikeout line can be put through the text proposed for removal and proposed new text can be put in boldface. This allows for legislators and the rest of us to see the context of the change.
p>In the above example that would still leave us to look up what section 138 is. There could be a footnote summarizing 138’s function. If they were really ambitious when they put legislation online for the rest of us to see, any referenced section of MGL can simply be hyperlinked so that the affected section will just be a click away.
Would be to require legislators to attach summaries along with their amendments, legislation, etc.