The Calendars logjam
Mon April 20, 2009 8:15 am

Calendars chairman McCall took the microphone during the budget debate to advise members that they should identify their top three priorities in their legislative programs. What he didn’t say, but was obvious to all, is that the late start of committees and the record number of bill filings has created the mother of all legislative logjams. Even so, the calendars leading up to the budget debate were short and noncontroversial; the number of bills has almost always been in the single digits until today, and the objective appeared to be to keep any controversial legislation off the floor until the House had passed the budget.

McCall was careful to say that the three-priorities policy did not mean that bills so identified would get an automatic pass-through. Even so, I think it could have unforeseen (or perhaps foreseeable) consequences. It raises members expectations that their pet bills will escape the execution chamber. But some of those priorities bills are going to be bills that ought to be killed, and when priority legislation doesn’t make it to the calendar, there could be a backlash against Straus. I think the speaker and the process would be better off if Calendars functioned as it always has–determining which bills live and die in the same mysterious fashion that it always has.

Longtime Capitol hands will recall a session when the speaker–it was either Clayton or Lewis–gave each member the ability to move to suspend the rules so that their priority legislation could make an end run around Calendars. What developed was a free market in suspension motions, with members trading votes and other favors to get more suspensions, like NFL teams on draft day. That was a mess. Just let Calendars do its work. And remember, the purpose of Calendars is not to see that good bills pass but to see that bad bills die.

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