A Fair, UnConflicted Legislature

We submitted several initiative petitions for the 2024 ballot, including for conflicts of interest and a fair legislature. However, our submissions were last minute. I was sick a lot this year – not covid – and then my car broke down – though I’ve got a new ride now. However, everything juxtaposed and made submissions difficult. So, we didn’t have time to get anything perfected, or to submit based on prior work on this topic. However, to see if there was anything that could be done, there were two submissions that were written last minute off the cuff and submitted.

The first, on ‘returning democracy’ or creating a fair legislature, was certified and shows that this kind of petition can go forward. It is not perfect, because an oversight is that there isn’t a limit on the salary or bonuses of the legislature. The language could also have required that all legislative rules avoid establishing tyranny of any person, and instead foster democratic principles. The ideas to combine voting of representatives and senators in the state legislature would be better considered with feedback from legislators and opinions from other residents.

The good part is this proposal was approved even with a lot of changes that limit leadership control over legislators, and this was allowed because everything proposed simply relates to that topic and the vague word ‘transparency’ included in submission. However, the proposal also needs to insure it doesn’t just reduce leadership power while allowing legislators to do whatever they’d like at odds with the public. This proposal needs to be checked to make sure transparency and accountability is front and center. So I welcome ideas on how to improve this proposal, summarized here. Suggestions can be provided in comments below, online here, or mailed to me at 149 Central Pk Dr, Holyoke, MA 01040.

The second submission was a quick attempt to reduce some conflicts of interest, so it left out pages of work as this was too much to put together last minute. A fatal flaw that led to withdrawal is that the proposal allows the transportation budget to be equal among all legislators – this doesn’t make sense – instead of based on receipts or some logical number. As often happens, this occurred because checking the current system, the legislature actually pretty much does this, giving out mainly the same amount of money to all legislators no matter if they come from North Adams, Martha’s Vineyard, or Boston. Copying what already exists often you miss obvious problems as your brain assumes what exists must be decent.

This submission also does not set up a limit on salary, but requires a living wage salary. This could be improved, just as in the previous submission. Currently, the legislature sets bonuses for individual legislators ranging from zero to $90,000 – this is on top of an annual salary of $70,000 and other perks such as the transportation bonuses which may be $20,000. This is an extreme bonus range that the legislative leaders decide, and takes advantage of the ability to exert power over other legislators while allowing extraordinary personal enrichment. This bonus is also calculated into their retirement, making it so that leadership lacks the incentive to fix retirement calculations because they will receive so much more more than most, including legislators with a zero bonus. Even though the bill did not set up a limit on salary or bonuses, there is a lot here that is very positive, but the proposal was withdrawn for the above reasons. Just as listed above, suggestions are welcome for making improvements, and can be provided in comments below, using this form, and by mail to me at 149 Central Pk Dr, Holyoke, MA 01040.

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Kirstin Beatty