Last year, as my first in the Legislature, I spent a great deal of time listening, observing and questioning. The parliamentary procedures, rules of the house and procedures for writing and introducing legislation was often mind boggling. I also found that bills can move at a snail’s pace, or at light speed. Last year, I was asked to carry several bills to the floor for debate, but only worked on one complex bill for introduction. That bill was not introduced, which means printed and assigned a bill number, but it provided momentum for this year. Because that bill received a print hearing, some light was shed on the issue, but not much. At least it was not destined to a drawer, where it may never see the light of day.
This year, with more experience, I have been working on a few bills, two of which I am optimistic will move to the floor. Legislators are provided professional support for bill writing through the Legislative Services Office. But, at some point in the process, one needs to declare that this is “my bill! What I mean, a legislator needs to take ownership of the bill; responsibility for success or failure. When is the bill ready for a Routing Slip (RS) and when do you present to a committee for printing? These are important decisions for a sponsor. With seventy Representatives, thirty-five Senators, stakeholders, state agencies and interested citizens, there is never a lack of suggested changes, especially among competing interests.
I would like to share with you the life of one of these bills. The first step in the process is to create a draft and gather support. Many revisions will be made by the sponsor before it is ready. The Legislative Services Office helps with the draft. When the sponsor is ready for a Routing Slip, the RS is then subjected to a thorough proofing for grammar, punctuation, cross references and proper format.
This bill, H504, needed to move quickly, because it has fiscal impact and needs to be included in the 2015 Budget. The draft was submitted for a Routing Slip and it was ready for a Committee presentation in less than less than 12 hours. It was approved for printing, printed and assigned a bill number within two days. The following day, the bill was approved by the committee, and sent to the Speaker to be placed on the calendar for a floor vote. H504 bill made it to the 3rd reading calendar in six days.
I am pleased to report that H504 was approved by the House of Representatives and sent to the Senate for their consideration on Thursday; just one week after the RS was requested. It may take a bit longer in the Senate, because the urgency of speed was met in the House. Having passed one legislative chamber, the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee must now consider the legislative policy in their budget deliberations.
H504 is an education bill to set the first policy from the Governor’s Task Force on Improving Education. Its price tag is $15.9 million and will provide school funding for teachers who take on additional responsibilities. We are confident of the Senate’s support, as we have kept the Senate Education leadership in constant communication. (I just received a call and learned that H504 will be heard on Monday in the Senate, so momentum continues.)
The speed demonstrates that things can happen fairly quickly, but this was not light speed. Wait until the final days of the legislature, when everyone wants to go home. Rules of the process can be suspended and legislative steps accelerated. What can take a couple of weeks to get a needed bill to the Governor’s desk; can be done in just days or hours. The final bills are generally appropriation (spending) bills, so they can move quickly.
It may seem strange to move some bills at light speed, while others can linger for months, never seeing the light of day. But, without some light speed we might never get to what is called “Sine Die,” Latin for the closing of the legislature. Sine Die leaves the legislature without any date designated for resumption, at least that is what Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says. But, the Clowster dictionary says, “Sine Die” means, no matter what the speed of light, it is time to turn out the lights, the party’s over.