Friday, January 14, 2011

Wiederaenders: Sparring over bills is not the norm

In dashing off his Friday column, Tim writes a confusing bit:

Something I really liked in Tobin's comments was that the bill was "expedited, but mostly was a part of business as usual at the Legislature, where most bills are bipartisan."

See, when legislative debates appear to be problematic or contentious, they "are the most difficult issues and are not nearly as popular, as it likely should be."

This is difficult to parse, but what I get from it is that Rep Tobin told Tim that "most bills are bipartisan," and that a quick and efficient legislative process is "business as usual at the Legislature." And Tim thinks this is great.

This is either willful misunderstanding or obfuscation. A large number of votes in the Leg are minor housekeeping and ceremonial matters that no one cares about and get done pretty quickly -- unless a Speaker or President decides to hold up all bills for some arbitrary reason, as happened last year. This may be what Mr Tobin refers to, in a statistical sense. Many bills don't get through the first stage of the committee process. The remainder are generally contentious and usually partisan, and those are what we hear about in the news. That's where the long knives come out. Any legislator worth her salt will line up cosponsors on the other side of the aisle, that's given. Does that make the bill "bipartisan"? It's a semantic choice.

What we do know, in any case, is that the road is never smooth for legislation that matters. Either Tim heard Mr Tobin wrong, or Mr Tobin was again shoveling the sort of odious dark matter for which he's become famous.

Incidentally, one good reason legislation does not normally pass through this quickly is that there's no time for legal vetting and really thinking the thing through. From what I've read about the funeral-protest bill, it seems unlikely to survive legal challenge. Is that efficient use of legislative time?

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