ODF Update: What Will Happen Next on Beacon Hill and When

It's been difficult trying to follow what's been going on in Massachusetts regarding the progress of the amendment intended to deprive the Information Technology Division of its ability to set standards policies (or do determine much of anything else). Here's an update.

As you know if you’ve been following the Massachusetts ODF saga, there is a move afoot in the Massachusetts Senate to trim the wings of State CIO Peter Quinn and his Information Technology Division (ITD). Why? Because they had the temerity to adopt a standards policy without first kissing the rings of the right members of the Commonwealth’s political elite.


That effort first manifested itself when State Senator Pacheco called a hearing on October 31 at which Quinn was questioned, and then confronted him with the testimony of a variety of critical witnesses (I posted a rough transcript of that hearing here that night.). Not long after, word came that an amendment had been introduced to an unrelated economic stimulus bill in the Massachusetts Senate that would totally emasculate the ITD’s power to set any kind of IT standards or procurement policy without the approval of a “task force” of political appointees


I’ve been trying to follow what’s been happening on Beacon Hill ever since, and it hasn’t been easy. Apparently, some legislators in Massachusetts prefer not to make it difficult for the citizenry to know what’s going on until after it’s already gone down. Repeatedly, I’ve been told by those that have called this office or that that no one will divulge simple facts such as who sponsored the amendment, and when it will be debated. And some of the news that has circulated has been contradicted by other sources. I reported on November 10, for example, that I had been told that the House and Senate bills would likely be reconciled by November 18, 2005, which now appears to be inaccurate.


Over the long weekend, though, I’ve received updates from two reliable sources about what is likely to happen (or, in this case, not happen) and when. Here’s what they had to say.


The first report comes through the able assistance of Pamela Jones, at Groklaw.net. Pamela has not only been good enough to link to many of my posts on ODF, but has been providing her own unique perspective at Groklaw as well. I asked Pamela if any of her loyal band had any status information on the bill (S 2256), and today she sent me the following report from one of her readers:

I attended the senate meeting on November 3, during which the amendment “COMMONWEALTH INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY TASK FORCE” was adopted and got attached to the bill. This was the bill’s second reading. The amendment was sponsored by Senator Michael Morrissey, after being recommended to the Senate by the Ways and Means Committee. The chair of the Ways and Means Committee is Senator Therese Murray, whose name appeared as the original sponsor of the amendment. Senator Marc Pacheco, who seems to be behind most of this, also sits on the Ways and Means Committee.

I don’t yet know whether or not the bill subsequently received its third and final reading for this stage of the process.


The second report comes from a public relations person that works for one of the corporate proponents of ODF. They are also trying to follow what’s going to happen next, which would be to reconcile the Senate bill, which presumably now includes the amendment if the bill has had its third reading, with the House version, which does not. I asked him what he new, and he replied as follows (the ellipses are in the original; I haven’t dropped anything):

We are continuing to try and understand/evaluate the situation… right now, I don’t know……our current information is that it is unlikely this issue will go to conference this calendar year…..that said, we’re tracking and where appropriate scheduling meetings with legislators…..

This is largely borne out by the most recent edition of the Advances issued by the State House. In summary, it notes that there are only three working days between now and when the legislature will adjourn for the balance of the year, and there are many, many major and minor bills already in various stages of action, as well as a number of scheduled hearings on other bills. It also notes that no bill is in danger of being killed if it is not signed into law by year’s end, meaning that there is no reason for urgent action, at least from that perspective.


Here’s what it says that is most directly relevant to ODF:



STATE HOUSE. BOSTON.This is just a three-day work week for Massachusetts lawmakers – but it may be the busiest and most important one of their legislative year. “Formal” sessions for 2005 end on Wednesday, Nov. 16 and there’s been lots of talk about what will or won’t be accomplished by that deadline. But Wednesday does not present a make-or-break date for any of the major or minor bills still pending as this first year of a biennial draws to a close. Every piece of legislation, save an appropriation bill or veto thereof, is carried over into the new year without losing any ground. And even if a pending supplemental budget is still in the works come next Thursday, it too can be carried forward into 2006 by way of a simple vote in each branch giving it continued life. So the only possible damage come Thursday morning may be to the immediate hopes of interest groups pushing to stop or advance various bills and to the pride of leaders who may have predicted passage of one bill or another that will end up being delayed. But while Wednesday is not a drop-dead deadline, the Legislature may act like it is…. In the coming week, several major bills may well reach Romney’s desk, or attract his signature. [I’ve deleted the details on bills relating to energy efficiency, corporate capital gains tax reform, welfare reform and access to health insurance.]

ECONOMIC STIMULUS — CAPITAL SPENDING It will take some hard and quick work in conference committee for the Legislature to merge two far-reaching and competing job creation bills into one this week. The House last week named Reps. Bosley, DeLeo and Hill as its negotiators. The Senate has not named its conferees. A mid-year spending bill appropriating the remaining fiscal 2005 surplus also has a long way to go. The Senate had planned to act on the bill last week, before it became riveted on the health insurance access legislation. Action on the “supp,” as such supplemental budgets are known, is possible in the Senate this week. 


A variety of other bills are identified as being “less likely to move,” including, intriguingly, “The perennial bill filed by Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth) [which] would ban the appearance of apes, wild cats, bears, elephants, giraffes, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses” in traveling shows and circuses (that bill will rate a hearing this week, however.)

 If my second source’s sources (did you follow that?) are right, it appears unlikely that the economic stimulus bill will rise to the top of the action list and become law between now and the New Year — unless, of course, there is maneuvering going on behind the scenes to push the stimulus bill to the top of the stack.


In my view, it’s a good thing if the bill lies dormant for six weeks, because the quality of information that is in the marketplace and available to Massachusetts legislators is still sub-par (see my last blog entry, demonstrating that conclusion). And there could be further progress on the accessibility front before the legislature reconvenes, which would undercut one of the prime reasons given by opponents to try and reverse the ITD’s decision.


When the New Year does roll around, here’s the outline of the formal process that is supposed to ensue (the following is courtesy once again of Pamela’s contributor):

After a bill takes its second reading, it is open to debate on amendments and motions. Following debate, a vote is taken and if the bill receives a favorable vote by the membership, it is ordered to a third reading and referred to the Committee on Bills in the Third Reading. This amounts to preliminary approval of the bill in that branch.


That committee examines technical points, as well as the legality and constitutionality of the measure, and ensures that it does not duplicate or contradict existing law. The committee then issues a report and returns the bill to the House or Senate for its third reading. At that time, legislators can further debate and amend the bill. Following the third reading, the body votes on “passing the bill to be engrossed.”


The bill must then pass through three readings and engrossment in the second legislative branch. Should that occur, it is sent to the Legislative Engrossing Division where it is typed on special parchment in accordance with the General Laws.


A vote “to enact” the bill, first in the House and later in the Senate, is the final step in the passage of a bill by the legislature. Following enactment, the bill goes to the governor, who may sign the bill into law.

So there is where things stand as of this writing. Hopefully the passage of extra time will increase the likelihood that the right decision will be made, not only with respect to ODF, but as regards technology policy in Massachusetts at large. It will be a sad day if the legislature not only votes to create a task force able to scuttle the ODF decision, but emasculates it’s own technology department into the bargain.


If that happens, it will send a message to state CIOs everywhere that they buck the establishment, both political and commercial, at their peril.


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