Rep. Birmingham introduced a bill that would direct the state legislature to memorialize Congress in favor of federal legislation that would assure states of their authority over intrastate utility business (Springfield Republican, Feb. 5, 1931, p. 15).
Wallace H. Walker, secretary of the Public Franchise League, testified in favor of the bill before a Feb. 4 hearing of the Legislative Committee on Constitutional Law. Walker said the legislation would “prevent local utilities from jumping into federal courts before they had taken advantage of their rights of appeal to state courts.”
The Massachusetts Gas and Electric association oppose Birmingham’s bill, arguing that even if the federal legislation were passed, it would not prevent state utilities from asking federal courts to review their cases and that the right of appeal to state courts is very limited.
Rep. Birmingham urged passage of his bill to provide that the Registrar of Motor Vehicles inform any person summarily punished of his right to make an appeal within 10 days, during a Feb. 13 hearing before the House Committee on Highways and Motor Vehicles (Boston Herald, Feb. 14, 1930, p. 13).
The hearing was held to review legislation that would modify the authority of the registrar of motor vehicles.
One bill would prevent the registrar from suspending or revoking licenses until the offenders had been convicted. Another bill would prevent the registrar from suspending or revoking the license of any operator for any minor offense until he had been given a hearing.
Representatives of the governor’s Committee on Street and Highway Safety spoke against the legislation.
Lloyd A. Blanchard, executive secretary of the committee, warned that the legislation would undermine the registrar’s control and public safety. He said that the bills would permit an offender to continue to drive for months while awaiting trial.
“One of the basic fundamentals of the registrar’s duties is the application of summary action to drivers apprehended while driving unsafely,” Blanchard said.
Rep. Birmingham spoke March 16 in favor of reconsidering an earlier House vote refusing to order a third reading of a bill calling for a state-wide referendum on the federal Prohibition Amendment (Boston Globe, March 17, 1927, p. 10).
However, the House voted 128 to 105 against a motion to reconsider, which was made by Rep. James J. Twohig of South Boston.
The vote on the original bill calling for the referendum was a tie, which killed the bill.
“A tie vote is the very best argument for reconsideration,” said Rep. Roland D. Sawyer of Ware.
Rep. Francis X. Coyne of Boston quipped that “if every man who takes a drink of those forbidden liquors voted for it the bill would go through.”
Rep. Birmingham filed a report March 5 dissenting from the majority report of the Special Commission on Control and Conduct of Public Utilities (Boston Globe, March 5, 1930, p. 11).
Birmingham took issue with the findings and recommendations of the majority report and recommended enactment of six bills to regulate power companies.
“The facts presented to this commission prove conclusively that the people and industries of Massachusetts are being forced to carry a heavy burden of unjust charges for electric light and power,” Birmingham said.
He highlighted the higher prices charged by Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Boston than those charged by municipal plants. Edison charged $2.13 for 25 kilowatt hours of power, compared to $1.00 to $1.80 for municipal plants in Massachusetts.
Birmingham criticized the majority report for not recommending that the state take over direct control of the power holding companies. He recommended that mergers of power companies be forbidden, except with legislative approval.
Gov. Alvan T. Fuller held an Aug. 3 hearing at the State House on a petition to commute the death penalty sentence for the carbarn trio convicted of murdering James A. Ferneau during the 1925 robbery of the Boston and Middlesex Street Railway office in Waltham (Boston Globe, Aug. 4, 1926, p. 1, 7).
After the hearing Fuller said he directed George M. Kline, State Commissioner of Mental Disease, to have John J. Devereaux examined by two alienists not connected with the case.
During the hearing, friends and relatives of the three men – Devereaux, John J. McLaughlin, and Edward J. Heinlein – spoke in favor of clemency.
Rep. Birmingham said he had known McLaughlin for 30 years and Devereaux for four years. Birmingham said that Devereaux did not appear normal to him, a condition he blamed on his war experience.
Birmingham said he believed that the three men must have been drinking at the time of the robbery.
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.”