Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bypassing Public Scrutiny: The Likely Legislative Strategy Employed by CIB Taxpayer Bailout Proponents

Over at Advance Indiana, Gary Welsh writes a compelling piece about a bailout of the Capital Improvement Board getting put into the budget bill.

People need, however, to be on guard regarding this little legislative trick that can allow such a bailout to bypass most of the public scrutiny it would otherwise receive.

It takes weeks if not months for most bills to pass through the legislative process. When they go to the standing committees, the public is permitted to speak out on the bill and the bills can be "marked up" (i.e. changed) before they move to the floor. Because of the length of this process, any controversial measures generally get a great deal of public exposure before the final days of the session. The troops opposed to certain bills, get plenty of time to rally their troops.

There is a way around this lengthy process, a way that allows the legislature to adopt controversial provisions without much public attention or input form the public. Here's how it works:

When a bill comes out of the first chamber and is changed in the second chamber, then it often ends up in conference committee where 4 conferees, 2 from each chamber, sit around a table and try to work out a compromise on the bill. These conferees can make any changes they want, including inserting into the bill language that neither chamber originally considered. Sometimes, conferees will strip out the language of a bill and insert a completely new bill.

Conference committees are open to the public, but do not take public testimony. They operate on a very compressed time table, usually meeting during the last few days of the session. The conference committee report (the compromised version of the bill) that come out of conference goes directly to the House and Senate floor for final vote. At that stage there are no amendments, but just a straight up or down vote on the compromise bill.

There is no question that a bill like the budget bill will end up in conference committee. The bill will be huge and it will be considered in a conference committee during the last day or two of the session. There will not be enough time to digest everything, and little, if any, time to rally opposition to any new objectionable provisions.

By waiting to insert the language into the conference committee report during the last day or so of the General Assembly, those who want the CIB taxpayer bailout can effectively shut out most of the publicity the provision might otherwise get as well as make it virtually impossible for opponents to rally the troops against the controversail provision.

Inserting controversial provisions into conference committee reports is an old game played by the legislators who don't want the full glare of the public eye on controversial proposals. YOu can bet that is the very plan the CIB and city lobbyists plan to use to get the taxpayer-funded bailout through the General Assembly.


Anonymous said...

Rain Delay
$720 million stadium, 10-cent roof


Patriot Paul said...

That is exactly what happened last year with HEA 1001 when property tax caps were touted fostered by a media blitz of reform to placate a hostile public. The bill was still being printed at a late hour; then the vote was taken. We later learned by lawmakers' admission that they never read the final draft. Sounds like a microcosm of the Washington D.C. crowd that prints out a monster 11:00 pm.bill over 1,000 pages and votes the next day up or down, prior to Pelosi leaving town. (even worse, the 'redlining' of bills- the daily grind of bills approved by phone from your D.C. office without ever stepping into the chamber in the light of public view, all the more speaks of secrecy of billions of dollars spent within porkulus bills.) It is time we stand up to restore America and get these creature comfort practices totally removed.