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The House--Designed to be Inefficient?

In a recent debate on the floor of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, one of my colleagues thundered, as the Boston Globe put it, that the House was designed to be inefficient.

And, after 180 sessions--it's the oldest continuous legislature in the country--that design is often fulfilled.

One of the most difficult things I had to deal with, when first elected, was the fact that I was often expected to be in two places at once. And, although I've never learned to bi-locate, I quickly learned how to set priorities, so I at least think I'm at the most important meeting or hearing. And, I've learned how to get from one room to another or one building to another or one city to another in the least possible amount of time.

There are a lot of frustrations in this. Dinners for example. You get to one event, but have to leave before they serve dinner. You get to the second event after they've eaten. You end up at home at 10 p.m. looking for food.

I know I can afford to miss a few meals, but I hate missing hearings! For the past two years I've been on two major committees, the Insurance Committee and Commerce and Labor. Both held hearings twice a week. On the same day. At the same time.

Compounding the problem was the fact that the House was sometimes in session at the same time the hearings were going on. So I ran from the basement hearings to the first floor hearings, and on to the third floor of the State House for roll calls. Didn't miss a vote!

The days that we meet in formal legislative sessions vary from week to week. So, today, Saturday, I probably know if we're in session on Monday. But the rest of the week's schedule won't be announced until, at least, after Monday's session. That means that previously-scheduled speeches, meetings, office hours, appointments and plans in Western Massachusetts may have to be changed at the last minute.

Put another way, all of this--two or three meetings scheduled for the same time, running late or leaving early, and a continual series of cancellations due to changes in calendars and schedules, doesn't create a lot of credibility for anyone.

You just have to trust me--if I say I can't get there, I can't.

And, although it's embarrassing to be late, or miss a meeting, I'm not really complaining. Because, in spite of our inefficiencies, we do get a lot done--in the State House and in our districts.

No, things may not happen as quickly as we'd like or as you'd like, because legislation, for example, has to go through hearings, debate and discussion, legal review, approval more than once by House and Senate, approval or veto by the Governor. And, in fact, some of the delays prevent really stupid decisions from being made or dumb laws from being passed.

If you're sitting in the gallery, watching us work, trying to keep track of what is being said on the House floor, you'll probably be totally confounded, to say nothing about being unable to hear what anyone is saying.

You'll see us walking around, talking, discussing. You'll see us run in and run out. But we do know what's going on. Even if we're not on the House floor, we're probably watching, and listening, because sessions are telecast throughout the State House. And we've had meetings to talk about what legislation will be introduced, or debated, each day.

You get used to the confusion, the changes, and the challenges, when you live with it every day. You may not like it all, but you get used to it. And you work with it.

Because, as the Honorable Representative from Hanson, assistant minority leader Francis Marini said, "This House was not designed to be efficient! It was designed to be inefficient."


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