The Legislative Committee on the Judiciary rejected on March 7 a number of bills calling for the abolition of capital punishment, including one introduced by Rep. Birmingham (Boston Globe, March 8, 1927, p. 8).
Other sponsors of the bills were Reps. James J. Twohig, C. F. N. Pratt, and Maurice J. Tobin, and Sens. John J. Mulvey and Wendell P. Thore.
The committee also rejected a petition from George Washington Chapter, S.A.R., for legislation to define the crime of syndicalism and for fixing a penalty.
Rep. Birmingham introduced Dec. 20 a bill that would prohibit future consolidation or merger of gas or electric operating or holding companies unless the legislature provides special authorization (Boston Globe, Dec. 20, 1930, p. 7) .
Birmingham also filed a bill to change the law covering the establishment of municipal lighting plants.
The bill would allow a community that had voted to establish a plant, if it fails within 150 days to agree with the local power company about the terms of the purchase, to take steps to acquire the plant or establish a plant.
Rep. Birmingham introduced May 5 a bill to authorize the city of Boston to borrow $8 million for the reconstruction of accepted streets in Brighton, Dorchester, West Roxbury, Hyde Park, Roxbury, South Boston, East Boston, Charlestown, and Jamaica Plain.
Birmingham sent a letter to Boston Mayor Nichols noting that streets in outlying sections should be made safe for automobile and pedestrian use.
in the letter, he said that some of the streets were so bad that firetrucks and other equipment were unable to travel over them.
Rep. Birmingham was one of only six representatives to vote in favor of a resolution asking Gov. Alvan Fuller to appoint a commission to review evidence in the Sacco-Vanzetti case, the Boston Globe reported (April 15, 1927, p 1, 17).
The House Rules Committee had recommended against suspending the rules to admit the resolution. Birmingham, along with five other legislators, voted to suspend the rules so the resolution could be considered. The House vote was 146 to 6 against suspending the rules.
The representatives joining Birmingham were the resolution’s sponsor, Rep. Roland D. Sawyer of Ware, along with Reps. Tony Garofano of Lynn, C. F. Nelson Pratt of Saugus, Lewis R. Sullivan of Boston, and Charles A. Kelley of Worcester.
Birmingham, Sullivan, and Pratt said they voted in favor of suspending the rules because they were opposed to capital punishment.
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born American anarchists who were convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of a guard and a paymaster during a 1920 robbery of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company in Braintree.
They were sentenced to death by the trial judge Webster Thayer. After a series of appeals and a lot of public controversy, they were executed on Aug. 23, 1927.
The governor did end up appointing a three-man commission to review the case, which decided that the verdict and death sentence were justified.
Rep. Birmingham criticized the Committee on Insurance for abdicating its responsibility on compulsory automobile insurance rates, during a May 1 hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee (Boston Globe, May 1, 1929, p. 12).
Birmingham said that committee should have tackled the problem themselves instead of proposing to set up a special commission.
The House Ways and Means Committee held the hearing convened to examine the Insurance Committee’s decision to report a resolve calling for creation of a special commission to study the issue of compulsory automobile insurance rates.
The Senate and House chairmen of the Insurance Committee defended their actions. The committee had proposed to set up a special committee to study the subject of compulsory auto insurance because the panel did not have sufficient information to make a decision.
“For that reason, the resolve was reported,” said Rep. Eliot Wadsworth of Boston, House chairman of the Insurance Committee.
Rep. Renton Whidden of Brookline noted that the committee had only held one executive session on the subject. “At this session, not one of the bills was opened or discussed. And without considering any of them the committee voted to report out a resolve creating a commission.
Whidden urged the Ways and Means Committee to instruct the Insurance Committee to “do its duty and take some action on the many bills which were submitted to it.”
House Speaker Leverett Saltonstall handed the gavel over to Rep. Birmingham, who was the Democratic House Floor Leader, for a time on June 19.
There was “prolonged applause” when Birmingham took the House chair, the Boston Globe reported (June 19, 1934, p. 21).
This was the first time in that House session that a Democrat presided over the deliberations of the lower branch of the legislature, according to the newspaper.
James A. Farley, the Democratic national committee chairman, sent a telegram to Rep. Birmingham, the House Democratic Floor Leader, and Sen. Joseph Finnegan, the Senate Democratic Floor Leader, urging the state to ratify the federal Child Labor amendment.
A hearing on the amendment was held at the State House on Feb. 7 by the Legislative Committee on Constitutional Law. The packed hearing was held in the largest committee room available, reported the Boston Globe (Feb. 7, 1934, p. 14).
The Farley telegram read: “The Democratic national committee hopes Massachusetts becomes the 21st State to ratify the Child Labor amendment and make permanent the gains under the N.R.A. Fourteen States have ratified this year under the leadership of the Democratic party.”
Testifying in favor of the amendment was Rep. Roland D. Sawyer, who sponsored the petition filed by the State Federation of Labor supporting ratification of the amendment.
“This amendment touches only regulation of the labor of those under 18 years of age, and I cannot believe that any Legislature would seek, or if it so sought, would be allowed by the United States Supreme Court to make any laws affecting the education or religion of our youth,” said Sawyer.
“Those distinguished men who oppose this amendment because of the unhappy results of the 18th amendment, so far as I can see, have no real basis for seeing any analogy between them,” he added.
Robert J. Watt, secretary-treasurer of the State Federal of Labor, said that the amendment would give Congress the power to limit, regulate, and prohibit labor of individuals younger than 18 years old but did not imping on state’s rights.
Watt went after those critics who compared the amendment to the prohibition amendment, stressing that the two were complete different.
Watt also criticized Cardinal O’Connell for his opposition to the amendment, stressing that he was acting as an individual, not as a representative of the diocese. He related that the cardinal had written to Boston attorney Alexander Lincoln stating the he was opposed to the amendment.
Just days after being sworn into office himself, Gov. James Michael Curley swore in Rep. Birmingham and Rep. Eugene H. Giroux of Somerville in the governor’s office. Both representatives were unable to attend the opening House session, the Boston Globe reported (Jan. 9, 1935, p. 17).
They were conducted to the governor’s office by Rep. Edward J. Kelley of Worcester, who took over the Democratic House Floor Leader position from Birmingham, who did not run for the position in 1935.
Curley and Birmingham had a long political history together. When Birmingham was first elected to office in 1925, he was a backer of Curley. But in the early 1930s, the two Boston politicians had a tense relationship.
Birmingham was a leading critic regarding alleged corruption when Curley served as Boston mayor.
In 1932, Birmingham attacked Curley for stealing city funds, during House debate over whether to override Gov. Joseph Ely's veto of a bill to allow Boston to take a two-year hiatus on its annual contribution to the municipal retirement fund.
Birmingham charged that the reason the mayor was seeking to suspend payments was because he had wasted taxpayer money in paying high prices for goods.
“Figures in my possession from the finance commission on the purchase of supplies show a flagrant waste of municipal funds in the payment of excessive prices for commodities,” Birmingham said during the floor debate.
Birmingham implied that the Mohawk Packing Co was a front for Curley to benefit from the excessive payments to vendors.
In 1933, Birmingham supported an investigation into the financial operations of the Curley administration that was then being considered by the House.
The two Boston politicians were also at odds over the Democratic presidential nominee in 1932. Birmingham backed Al Smith, while Curley backed Franklin Roosevelt.
In fact, Birmingham tried to prevent Curley from speaking at the Democratic National Convention. The Massachusetts delegation all supported Smith, but Curley was able to sneak into the convention as a delegate from Puerto Rico under the alias of Alcalde Jaime Curleo.
Both Birmingham and Chelsea Mayor Lawrence F. Quigley had challenged Curley’s right to speak at the convention. However, they were caught off guard when Curley took the stage at the convention and joined in the seconding of John Garner as the running mate to FDR, which became the Democratic ticket endorsed at the convention.
A caucus of Democratic state lawmakers opposed May 19 the Congressional redistricting plan reported by a special legislative committee (Boston Globe, May 19, 1931, p. 9).
The caucus said that the plan was unfair and designated Rep. Birmingham to appoint a committee of 15 members to draft a substitute plan.
The Birmingham committee was expected to invite the state’s two U.S. senators, the Democratic Congressmen, the chairman of the Democratic State Committee, and the Democratic member of the national committee from Washington to aid in the committee’s work.
The committee was expected to have an alternative plan ready for a vote in the House, but not for the Senate, which was schedule to vote on the original plan on May 19.
Rep. Birmingham said the original redistricting plan was a “gerrymander.” He argued that the new division should allow seven of the 15 districts to be Democratic, seven Republican, and one “fighting territory.”
At the time, there were 12 Republican members of Congress, four Democratic members of Congress. The original plan allows nine Republican districts, five Democratic districts, and one to be fought over.
Rep. Birmingham argued that the original plan allows too great a spread in the population of some of the districts, citing the spreads between Districts 9 and 10 and Districts 11 and 12, the latter of which is about 34,000.
In the Democratic plan being drafted by the Birmingham committee, it is hoped to realign various districts so that the difference in each district would not be more than 3,000.
Rep. Birmingham also argued that some cities, such as Cambridge, Salem, Revere, Lawrence, and Chelsea, had been “cut up” too much. He said that any plan should avoid cutting up cities, with each city being treated as a unit for redistricting purposes.
Rep. Birmingham, along with Rep. C. F. Nelson Pratt of Saugus and Rep. Stephen D. Manning of Marlboro, petitioned Gov. Ely to restore pay cuts for state, county, and city of Boston employees during a 1933 special session called by the governor to enact liquor control legislation (Boston Globe, Nov. 10, 1933, p. 6).
The petitioners’ bill would restore the employees to their previous pay scale by Dec. 1. The bill was expected to be referred to the House Rules Committee. If the committee fails to act on the bill, it would require a four-fifths vote to bring the bill before the special session, the newspaper related.
Other bills were presented to restore the pay cuts, but only this will was marked for consideration at the special session.