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Hill: Legislators are Dodging 'Hard-Hitting Issues'

State Rep. Brad Hill, the House's Minority Whip, argues that important legislation in the past session was sent to study rather than going up for a vote.

The following is a column submitted by state Rep. Brad Hill, a Republican from Ipswich who represents both Hamilton and Wenham in the state House of Representatives. He is the House's Minority Whip.

Is democracy still alive in Massachusetts? If it is alive today, it is on life support. Citizens of the Commonwealth elect legislators to make difficult and educated choices. A legislator's job is to represent their community to the best of their judgment, not dodge the issues of the day.

I am sorry to report to my constituents that during this legislative session there were numerous times in which I was not given the opportunity to perform the simple task you sent me to Beacon Hill to perform - vote. Instead of taking up hard-hitting issues that would make a difference in many communities across the Commonwealth, countless votes were buried by being voted to be "put to a study". This became very frustrating, as putting a bill to a study essentially means that the issue is being tabled until next legislative session, if the issue is brought to the floor again.

Important issues that countless constituents called my office on, whether they were in support or against the objective of the legislation, were sent to a study because fellow politicians were afraid to make difficult choices and be held accountable by their constituents.

By my count a total of nine hard-hitting issues were sent to a study. This included an amendment to the budget which would have required the state to check on an individual's legal status before issuing any sort of public benefits. This particular issue had previously been sent to a study as well. How long are we going to study an issue?

Following the vote to amend the budget in regards to the issue of immigration, I was forced over and over to explain to the public that I had not voted against the amendment. My "no" vote had been against sending the first amendment to a study. Essentially on the final vote a "yes" vote meant to send the amendment to a study and a "no" vote meant that the representative wanted to bring the amendment to the floor for a vote. In the end, the amendment to the budget was sent to a study and once again politicians were able to hide from the issue that was brought to the Legislature's attention to repair.

Beyond the issue of immigration, the Legislature also chose to study managed care plans for MassHealth. This reform would relocate all Medicaid and MassHealth fee-for-service programs, including primary care clinician plans, to a managed care form of Medicaid. In essence, the bill would have allowed for those under Medicaid to stay healthy by being under the constant care of a doctor instead of looking for ways to cure themselves once they have become ill; a much costlier way of dealing with healthcare. But once again, our Legislature chose to ignore the true meaning of democracy and neglected to vote on the issue.

Furthermore, an eradication of the added sales tax and alcohol tax were sent to be studied along with a bill that would have had our Legislature vote on the death penalty.

Two major roll call votes that took place during the budget debate, that would have helped bring more local aid to many of our struggling municipalities, were also further amended and voted to a study, instead of simply having the matter voted upon. The first of these amendments would have restored local aid to the amount that the Governor allocated for in his budget, a discrepancy of $234 million. The second would have obligated 50 percent of any surplus revenue to be administered for the purpose of local aid. It is imperative that we have open discussions when dealing with issues that are as important as funding our cities and towns instead of avoiding the issue at hand.

It would be one thing if being "put to a study" actually meant some studying was going on. I understand the original intention of studying an issue because we needed more time to comprehend the effects of the legislation on the citizens, not the repercussion for politicians. And if that's the case, hold us to a deadline. But here's the dirty not-so-well-kept secret, the political process has been manipulated where issues are put to a study but there is no intention of ever taking the test.

Agree or disagree with me on issues, but hold me and my colleagues accountable by making us take a stand. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to let the public know that putting an issue to study is an often-abused tactic by professional politicians to take themselves off the hook. And when transparency and accountability are subtracted from the political process, then democracy has been diminished just a little bit more.

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