It's Probably a Good Thing: July 23 2004
NOT EASY TO PASS A BILL - THAT’S PROBABLY A GOOD THING
By Representative Bob Lynn
Serving District 31
Every bill runs a gauntlet before it becomes law. Odds of pasage are seldom good. Power politics can be the name of the game. The most powerful players (gatekeepers) are the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, Committee Chairs, and the Rules Chair.
Here’s how it works. A representative gets an idea for a bill. The bill is drafted into “legislative language,” printed, then “read” (actually just the title) the first time in the House. Next, the Speaker of the House assigns the bill to two or three committees - typically, the fewer the committees the better the Speaker likes the bill. The speaker can assign the bill to “friendy” or “unfriendly” committees; he knows the political leanings of committee members..
The Committee Chair has the power to “hold” the bill without a hearing - effectively killing the bill. That’s raw political power. It’s possible for the legislature as a whole to vote the bill out of the committee against the chair’s wishes – that’s called “rolling the chair.” But that’s counter to legislative culture, and rolling a chair is considered near treasonous.
If the committee chair deigns to hear the bill, public testimony is scheduled. That’s when the lobbyists start muscling committee members for a favorable vote.
When testimony closes, someone on the committee makes a motion to “move” the bill. If there’s an objection, a roll call vote is taken – and the majority wins. If the bill doesn’t “move,” it is a dead duck. If the bill “moves,” committee members have a choice of written recommendations: pass, do not pass, no recommendation, amend. The favorite committee notation is “No recommendation.” A bill requires at least one “do pass” vote to move on to next committee - or it “dies in Committee.”
If the bill passes the committee gauntlets, next destination is the Rules Chairman’s desk. He decides the priority of bills to be sent to the House floor for a vote (scheduled sooner, later, or never).
Currently, the Rules Chair requires 21 initials on a “chit sheet” (“promises” to support the bill) before he’ll schedule the bill for a vote of the entire House. Obviously, with 21 initials on the chit sheet, the bill will probably get the majority vote needed to pass - regardless of eloquent oratory opposing the bill. Consequently, most bills that make it the House floor pass. Once a bill makes it to the House floor for a vote, the result is, for practical purpose, pre-determined. Some legislators, including me, have a problem with this procedure.
The Speaker requires that all legislators are requitred to vote, even if they declare a conflict of interest. No abstentions allowed.
The bill then goes to the Senate for a similar process. If it passes both houses, it needs the governor’s signature to become law. The governor can also veto the bill. It is possible for the legislature to overide the governor’s veto if 2/3rd of the combined House and senate to do so. After that comes potential judicial review – but that’s another subject.
Bottom line: it’s not easy to pass a bill.