On Thursday morning, Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves sent a joint “committee guidance memo” to legislators alerting them to an emergency measure instituted to help them finish their work.
The guidance offered was to waive advertisement of notice for public hearings and work sessions, to finish all public hearings by next Friday, May 10, to allow work sessions to be convened immediately after public hearing, and to permit committees to work extra days — including weekend days — to finish their work.
In simpler terms, the guidance shortcuts the public process of lawmaking.
This guidance was offered because, according to the memo, the deadline for voting all committee bills is fast approaching and the Legislature has been slow to get its work done.
Here’s the exact language:
“As of Monday April 29th, committees had voted 50% of their anticipated bill load but had more than 700 bills in their possession that have not yet been voted, 260 bills voted but not yet reported out and additional bills are still expected to be referred. Although this represents a great deal of hard work by the committees so far this session, it is clear that there is still a significant amount of work remaining in committee. It is essential that you continue your efforts to meet the deadlines, so that we can complete the work of the Legislature on time and within budget.”
This memo goes on to ban any committee meetings after May 24 so that the Legislature can adjourn on schedule in June, and acknowledges the mandate to complete the workload will be “challenging.”
Yes, it will.
It’ll be even more challenging for the public to be part of the process since meeting notices will be limited to the Legislature’s website and to sheets of paper posted outside committee rooms. And, there may be absolutely no time to digest the testimony offered at hearings before committees vote out bills.
It is, as one commenter on asmainegoes.com noted, “disgraceful.”
“Just imagine for a second,” he posted, “if we saw this kind of incompetence under the Republican leadership in the 125th. Of course you wouldn’t have — Bob Nutting and Kevin Raye understood the serious responsibility and solemn duty of leadership of the legislature.”
Thing is, there's no need to imagine such a thing under the 125th Legislature.
That’s because the Republican-led 125th did precisely the same thing.
On April 25, 2011, President Raye and Speaking Nutting sent a “completing committee work” memo waiving advertisement of meeting notices. Because, as the memo noted, as of that date, the committees had voted on just 50 percent of their anticipated workload and still had 750 bills “in their possession that have not yet been voted.”
And, again in 2012, Raye and Nutting sent out a “Committee guidance for completing of work” on Feb. 29 because committees had voted only 71 percent of their bills and were fast approaching a March 9 deadline.
In fact, the Alfond/Eves memo circulated Thursday carried the precise (and encouraging) language of the Raye/Nutting memo of 2012: “Although this represents a great deal of hard work by the committees so far this session, it is clear that there is still a significant amount of work remaining in committee. It is essential that you continue your efforts to meet the deadlines, so that we can complete the work of the Legislature on time and within budget.”
So, this concept of waiving advertising for public hearings and work session notices crosses party lines.
In criticizing Democratic leadership for its actions Thursday, Assistant House Republican Leader Alexander Willette of Mapleton said that “any time you stop advertising public hearings, you’re hindering the public’s ability to weigh in on important issues and, as a result, hindering our ability to craft good public policy.”
He is absolutely right. It does. But this hindrance is not a party-specific move, so the sentiment among Republicans that they are aghast that Dems would do such a thing is amusingly overblown. Hard to be aghast at something you’ve already done yourself.
We do agree, though, that this kind of thing shortchanges the public, not just in the diminished public notice, but in the diminished time given to those who have waited to testify on bills that are important to them and who will now be rushed through the process.
This is especially true since so many bills heard earlier in the session were the subject of days-long hearings, where people were permitted to speak at length in support or against public policy. That same opportunity will not be afforded the people who will appear to speak on the remaining bills before the Legislature, and the rush to mash out bills will reduce thoughtful committee discussion.
And, that, we can all agree, hinders good public policy.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.