After writing about the battle between the governor and the Legislature over the legitimacy of executive orders, I remembered a story from my last year as a legislative staffer that seems pertinent. This dates from so long ago–1973–that conference committees actually met in public and debated issues in the open. Positively Pleistocene. The House and Senate had passed far different versions of a major tough-on-drugs bill. The House conferees, then as now, were hardline conservatives. The Senate conferees were all liberal Democrats. As they went through the bill, the two sides couldn’t agree on anything. Finally, they took up a provision in the House version that allowed the head of the Department of Public Safety to add new drugs to the felony-offense list when the Legislature was not in session. Once again there was heated disagreement, and then the senator I worked for, Babe Schwartz, said to Tim Von Dohlen, the chair of the conference committee, “Tim, about the last ol’ liberal-radical notion I can’t get rid of is, Nothing becomes law when I ain’t here.” That comment broke the impasse because its logic was impeccable: Only the Legislature has the power to make laws.
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