It’s been 11 months since I invited you to join me in singing Joe South’s hit song, “Oh, the Games People Play.” Changed the words slightly to say “Oh the games the legislature plays now, Every night and every day now, Never saying what they mean, Never meaning what they say.”
This week’s legislative action means it’s time to start singing again, only earlier than in some past sessions. Last year it was as the session what winding down. Just days left so bills were rushed through the process, changed at the last minute to something entirely different (and if you don’t know what that means, go read up on Supreme Court decisions in the very recent past).
It’s no where near the end of the 2019 session. Heck, we’re not even halfway through the 30-day session. Today is just the 13th day of the session. So there’s plenty of time to give correct and adequate consideration of whatever legislature is in the hopper. There’s plenty of time remaining yet they aren’t acting like that.
Game Number One — This is something like my 45th legislative session if you include special sessions. But something happened Wednesday I’ve never seen. Typically, a bill passes one chamber and later that day the clerk of that chamber visits the other and announces something like, “The Senate has passed Senate Bill 1 and respectively asks the same of the House of Representatives.” Then the House takes the bill and begins the process all over again. Find a committee to consider the bill, send the bill to the committee, ask the chairperson of that committee to put it on the agenda, post it for three days before it can be considered and then hold a hearing on the bill. If the committee approves the bill, it heads to the full chamber, gets readings (by title only usually) for three days and on the third day can consider passage by the full chamber.
Senate Bill 100 was given more preferential treatment, obviously. That’s legislation on “net metering” and while the supporters will tell you it has nothing to do with solar energy, it has a lot to do with solar energy.
During a committee meeting on Wednesday, the bill was approved and sent to the full Senate. For a vote later that day. Wait? I said a bill has to have three readings before it can be considered. Well, that’s true and that’s where this comes in to play.
Game Number Two — On Monday, the Senate took the bill from committee, gave it its first reading and sent it back to the committee to consider. On Tuesday, the Senate took the bill from committee, gave it its second reading and sent it back to committee. The committee only meets on Wednesday so on Wednesday it did consider it. And it approved the bill, setting the stage for consideration by the full Senate. Both proponents and opponents argued on the bill before it was called for a vote. You can guess it pretty much passed along party lines, 23-12.
As the bill was walked down to the House by the clerk, Sen. Reginald Thomas filed a floor amendment to Senate Bill 100. It’s a little bit late to be filing a floor amendment since it’s already been voted upon, approved and is halfway down the Capitol to the other chamber.
Game Number Three — The Senate clerk appeared on the House floor to announce the successful history of Senate Bill 100 in the Senate and now asked the House to take up the issue. Ok, a couple of games already with the bill and that seems to be more of the way our legislature operates any more. But then a new game comes into play. The House got the bill and would have usually assigned it to a committee the next day. And remember, then have it posted for three days before consideration. Then came another announcement on SB 100. A motion was made to suspend the rules requiring three days’ posting of the bill. That meant the committee could take up the measure immediately if it wanted.
So what’s the rush? Why not allow the normal process to work, let the House have time to read the bill so they know what it’s all about? Let the House members have time to develop their questions to get answers about the bill. Let the process work.
Below is the record of how Senate Bill 100 has been handled, taken from the February 15 Legislative Record, and note that within minutes of being received in the House, it was given its first of three required readings. Five days total — a required six readings and two votes by the full chambers. It was brought to a vote in the full House this morning, two days after passing the Senate. You can guess how the vote went.