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O’Donnell pushing legislative reforms

  • Northampton City Council President Ryan O’Donnell, one of four candidates for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District in the Massachusetts state Senate, talks about his legislative reform proposals.



Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2018

Ryan O’Donnell, one of the four candidates running for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District in the Massachusetts state Senate formerly held by Stanley Rosenberg, wants to see more policy proposals in the campaign.

“I’ve been a little frustrated,” said O’Donnell, at a campaign event in Pulaski Park on Monday. “There’s been almost no substantive debate about actual proposals.”

At the event, O’Donnell advanced two proposals he would introduce if elected to the Senate related to reforming how the Legislature works.

The first would allow the public to attend all legislative conference committee meetings.

“I say open them up,” O’Donnell said.

He criticized the Legislature’s recently passed energy bill, and said that there is a lot of suspicion that business interests and utilities influenced the final result, which he described as watered down. He also expressed frustration that no progress was made in the last legislative session on reforming how education and health care is funded in the state.

“A big problem is conference committees,” he said, noting that they can be closed to the public via majority vote.

Conference committees reconcile different versions of legislation that pass the state House of Representatives and Senate.

O’Donnell said that opening up conference committees to the public could be accomplished either by changing the rules of the House and Senate or by partially extending the Open Meeting Law to extend to conference committees.

O’Donnell’s second proposal calls for extending the amount of time before a former legislator can become a lobbyist from one year to at least five years.

O’Donnell, the president of the Northampton City Council, is running as a write-in candidate in the race for the Democratic nomination for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester seat. He will face off against educator and women’s rights advocate Chelsea Kline of Northampton, the only candidate who will appear on the ballot; as well as write-in candidates Steven Connor of Northampton, the director of Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services; and Jo Comerford of Northampton, a former campaign director at MoveOn.org, in the Sept. 4 primary.

O’Donnell said that it was important for candidates in the race to explain specifically what they planned to do if elected.

“This is an election in which no one is talking about what they would do,” said O’Donnell. “Let alone talking about how they would change the system.”

He also said that an establishment candidate is not what is needed. “We need people who want to reform Boston,” he said.

Candidates respond

In response to O’Donnell’s policy proposals, Kline said in a statement that increased transparency is a must, and she supports anything that will open up government to the public. But that alone won’t change the fact that Beacon Hill doesn’t work for too many western Massachusetts communities, she said.

“If people don’t have reliable transportation, how can they attend a committee hearing?” Kline said. “If they don’t have broadband Internet, how can they stream it online? We need a senator who understands the systems that hurt vulnerable people and whose values won’t change whether meetings are public or not.”

Connor supports both of O’Donnell’s proposals. “I have absolutely no objection to either one of those,” he said.

And although Connor said he could see circumstances where a conference committee meeting might need to be closed, he thought the standard to close meetings should be higher than it is now.

He also said that more transparency in conference committees would benefit western Massachusetts as a whole, given its impending loss of seniority.

Asked about O’Donnell’s critique about how the campaign hasn’t gone into specifics, Connor also acknowledged it. “I hear what he’s saying,” he said. “Nobody’s getting in-depth.”

Connor noted that he had specific thoughts about issues like homelessness and foster care, but questions that would allow him to share those in more detail haven’t been asked.

“I have positions about homelessness and how to deal with that,” said Connor. “Nobody’s really asking the question.”

He intends to post more detailed positions on his website soon.

Comerford did not return a call for comment about the proposals.