Legislature skirts its process on “upskirting” bill
July 7, 2014
July 7, 2014
The previously little known but now infamous term “upskirting” has gotten a lot of attention over the last few days. That’s because of a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling which said that upskirting – taking pictures up a woman’s skirt – was not in fact illegal under the state’s voyeurism law. The ruling outraged the public and quickly caught the eye of the Legislature, which made the practice illegal in what must have been a record-breaking two-day timeframe.
And what is the reaction from political pundits on Beacon Hill? Boston magazine’s David S. Bernstein Tweeted “Why can’t all legislation move this fast?” Columnist Howie Carr asked why the Legislature can’t pass EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) reform this quickly.
The answer to Carr’s question is simple: That’s not how democracy works.
The upskirting bill, while arguably a sound public policy, was able to move so quickly due to a little used rule in the House of Representatives that allows the House Committee on Ways and Means to report out a bill that hasn’t had a public hearing. Not exactly the democratic process we learned about in 8th grade civics class.
The legislative system is intentionally designed to move slowly to allow for public input and careful deliberation. In a situation such as this where the policy is not complicated and clearly benefits public safety, public input probably wouldn’t have changed the intent of the legislation. However, it’s a slippery slope and not something lawmakers should get into a habit of doing. Just imagine the outcry if EBT reform was to be passed without a public hearing!
So next time you get frustrated at the slow rate of legislative change, remember that it’s designed that way with so that you – the public – can have a say.