Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Capitol Business

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Capitol Business

Article excerpt

Now the real work begins! House and Senate calendars were cleared of all bills last week except those in conference committees, or waiting consideration of amendments by the opposite house. Some key measures were sent to the governor, while others failed or were changed.

The Legislature is rounding the turn and just coming into the home stretch. Huddles on the fourth floor rotunda of the capitol grow more intense. Brows of lobbyists furrow a little deeper, and legislators move with a quickened pace, reflecting a greater sense of determination and finality or, perhaps, even some confusion.

What is happening? As the saying goes "Only God knows and he's not too sure." Oh, it's true legislative leaders will cross the rotunda and confer many times. They will meet with fellow legislators and develop a sense or grasp of what is occurring. On major issues and key budget agreements they will make the final decisions. More than a hundred conference committees will be named to work out differences on as many pieces of legislation. Don't worry about these committees over-burdening the legislative committee rooms. Many of them, usually with only six to 10 members divided between the House and Senate, never actually meet. At least no one else knows where or when, if they ever do. There have been instances where even members of the conference committee are not apprised of a meeting or what is happening. It is a curious anomaly that earlier in the session meetings of regular committees, whose decisions often are only preliminary, must be open. Later, conference committees, where decisions often are final, operate with little, if any public scrutiny, even by the capitol press. Often changes in bills will be made and agreed to by one or two members of a conference committee, with no meeting ever being held. Other members of the committee simply sign off on the final report if they agree. When the conference reports are returned to the House and Senate members may have little time to review their contents before voting on them. Frequently they will rely on what authors of the bills tell them. Fortunately there are always a few members who read them and are prepared to raise thorny questions where necessary. For those who are not familiar with how the Legislature works in these final weeks, it is a strange, bewildering and frightening procedure that confounds, irritates and strains credulity about lawmaking. For those who are familiar with how the Legislature works, it is a strange, bewildering and frightening procedure that confounds, irritates and strains credulity about lawmaking. If you have not seen it operate, no amount of explanation will bring about understanding. No textbook on government will adequately describe it. No logical rationale will justify the seemingly mysterious machinations that will occur during the next six weeks. …

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