Friday, April 6, 2007

READ 6,000 BILLS AND CAN'T FIGURE OUT THE PLOT

Billy Clyde batted .500 this week – all things considered, not too shabby.

Many in the chattering class, people who have no idea what really went on behind the scenes, have seen fit to criticize the way me and the Blair Witch Man got the soldiers out of Iran. Well next time, you and Jimmy Carter can try to secure the release of hostages held by Persian madmen and we can just compare results. It ain’t as easy as you think. BC chalks it up as a huge win.

The loss was really more of a draw. In my 20 years at the Capitol, never have I seen so many people work so hard to accomplish so little. Not that the status quo is bad, mind you. It’s just that if nothing is gonna happen, can we at least go fishing or get some sleep or bail Billy Joe Shaver out of jail or ... well, do SOMETHING worthwhile.

If you’re like BC – and if you’re not, you should try it – there is nothing you dig more than really worthless trivia. I don’t really like the word “trivia;” I prefer “fun facts.”

When the House Clerk closed up shop yesterday, House members had filed 4090 bills, 500 more than last session. Senators, judicious souls that they are, have filed a mere 2012 – still 100-plus more than last session.

Three have made it to the Governor, who has signed two (bet his wrist is sore).

If you generously assume that about 25 real calendar days remain in the session, that’s about 36,000 minutes to work on these bills – if you work 24 hours for all of those 25 days and never eat or take a bathroom break or have a committee hearing or recognize folks in the gallery or mull over a point of order or hear a single resolution of any sort.

If each of these bills were to take just three minutes of floor time, that is close to 38,000 minutes. This, of course, assumes that the bill analyses, fiscal notes, substitutes, revised bill analyses, revised fiscal notes, various impact statements, etc. have already been prepared. It also assumes we live in Nebraska under a unicameral legislative system – so go ahead and double that 38,000 figure.

If Representative Talton, for example, finds a sustainable point of order on, say 10 more “big” bills that get debated for three hours before they head back to committee to restart the journey and return to the floor, that’s about three 24-hour days right there.

Remember, this is not to be taken too literally (no way the House and Senate will drop the pledge or allegiance of the doctor of the day or ignore the folks in for Maverick County Day). These are fun facts. Billy Clyde simply wanted to illustrate where this session is heading.

Here’s the part where Billy Clyde stops rambling and his loyal fans get excited because they know it’s time for THE POINT. Which is, this process has became unmanageable.

Dealing with this kind of ridiculous amount of paper in the current system just won’t work. The Legislature somehow managed to send to the Governor almost 1,400 bills two years ago, and that was not a pretty sight. But instead of stepping back and remembering that the system is designed to kill, not pass, legislation, the Legislature – and, to be fair, the lobby – responded by increasing the paper flow by 10 percent.

Best I can tell, it’s not really anyone’s fault. But the really smart people need to get together during the interim and visit about ways to refine the process. Otherwise, the necessary but routine stuff along with the must-pass big-picture stuff will all start failing in droves. And people, special sessions are not our friends.

The worst solution I could envision would be a full-time Legislature or annual sessions. That defeats the purpose of our Constitutional framework. Long ago, House rules forced members to prioritize their bills (Billy Clyde knows this for a fact because he thinks he vaguely remembers some old-timer telling him about it). That’s a bad idea, too, because, let’s face it, not all members are created equal.

It seems like the simple solution – and if there is anything Billy Clyde excels in, it’s being a simpleton – would be a more deliberative committee process. Let the committee members take their time to really understand and vet bills and gain real substantive knowledge in their jurisdiction. Increase staff and staff pay so they, too, have the time and resources to become experts in the field instead of being experts in drafting clean committee reports.

Under this system, the average House member would have a comfort level that the substantive committee looked at the issue and reached a consensus, Calendars set it, so the presumption is that it must be good. Plus a lot of these 6,102 bill that have been filed this session would make excellent committee amendments if folks just had some time to think.

In the meantime ... tick tock tick tock tick tock.

8 comments:

Ida said...

Billy Clyde, this is state of the art retro blogging. Quality over quantity! If only the legislature had the same ethic (to use the word loosely).

A Person Who Normally Uses Her Name But Decides to Go Anony On This One said...

BC- you're right, but I would insert a quibble: Committees being more deliberative would require committee chairs to actually have some power. I offer that sadly, chairmen don't really mean anything anymore. Moreover, no smart chairman this session should expect anyone to have their back. Instead, it's a freakin' circus with everyone talking to hear themselves talk.

Anonymous said...

Hey BC, Shake here. I agree with you (yes, you now may commit suicide) about there being a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing this year.

Though I am merely an interested bystander to this ballet, I wonder how much of this has to do with the speaker and lite guv.

Continuing the greatest rivalry since Spy vs Spy, it looks like they're both playing "slow-the-calendar" to horde bills for late-session arm-twisting. But with both of them playing the game, neither ends up with leverage over the other and it all ends in a draw -- again, just like Spy vs Spy.

Tryin one...

Kimberly said...

BC - Please get out more. Come by the Capitol Crowd mixer and say "hello."

Anonymous said...

BC, you're wise to hold off your suggestion till the interim. I'm afraid for this session "Deliberative Committee Process" will remain oxymoronic, like "Military Intelligence," "Maxi-Thins" or "Almost Pregnant."

Billy Clyde said...

Dear Ida:

Retro, huh? Now where did I put those bell-bottom jeans?

Dear a person:

If I were a Chairman or even a clerk, I could probably respond better. You're last two sentences, however, are spot on, unfortunately.

Dear Shake:

You make my point about political consultants making poor legislative operatives. Sometimes shit is just shit and doesn't require a lot of deep thinking.

Dear Kimberly:

I got on a roll today and had to finish. But you are kind. Next time I'll be there, if possible.

Dear anon:

It's not in my nature to see the glass as half empty. But in retrospect, my post -- and my attitude lately -- has been less than upbeat. Maybe if we all concentrate on nothing but good thoughts ...

Anonymous said...

Interesting idea, one that seems to make far too much sense to actually happen. I have on good authority (meaning, I was there) that the House committee clerks got something akin to a butt chewing from some of the higher ups for all the points of order on bills this session.

Amazingly, when it was asked what could be done to clean up the bills and eliminate points of order, no one responded with what my answer would have been, which is "increase the pay so that more qualified people are willing to take this damn job." Seriously, would you want to write bill analyses 70 hours a week for what amounts to about a $45,000 with very little job security?

As to the person who said committee chairs have no real power, he obviously has not been hanging around the same committee chairs I have been. And as far as I can tell, the Speaker's office has been far more hands off than anyone could have predicted, meaning the chairs (many of them now in their third term helming a committee) are exercising much more power than in recent sessions.

Keep the great humor/analysis coming. And tell Charlie Schnabel to come around more. We need more of his great stories to keep us entertained. Can Billy Clyde teach him how to post a blog?

Jordan Fogal said...

Texas Torts and Tyrants.(HB1038= two more years of the indefensable actions ot TRCC and Bad builders)

Once upon a time, in the land of pay and play, a wicked story began. It did not commence with a secret or clandestine meeting. There was no cloak and dagger stuff, like in a game of CLUE. There were no whispers of a deep throat. Nevertheless, this horrible story is repeated all over Texas. Misdeeds are committed without shame. They are cruel, open, arrogant, and ongoing. Peoples' lives are destroyed as if they are inconsequential. Their numbers grow and are reported on a daily basis like the body bag count from a war.


One would assume that this state would have learned something from its history and not allow it to keep repeating itself. Past events include the 1954, $100 million, Veterans’ Land Board Scandal that was entangled in attempted murder, bribery, and political intrigue. This debacle involved none-other-than the governor, the attorney general, senators, and representatives; there were over 250 indictments handed down. How can things be allowed to get this out of control? Who says they don't do it bigger in Texas? Have we so soon forgotten Enron? The ill-effects of Texas greed and corrupt politics are not so easily forgotten by those whose lives are ruined. And now once again, this same sort of pond-scum is allowed to take control. Do all of this state's mistakes have to reach Texas-size portions to be addressed?



These moneychangers are lead stories in magazines, written about in the Newspapers, and some make the 6 o'clock news. Then there is silence and nothing more. It is as if everyone develops amnesia, right after the information is disseminated. It is as if no one can acknowledge what is right-in-front of his or her eyes. The culprits and henchmen continue: as if no one sees anything is wrong, and God is in his heaven, and all is right with the world.



Sitting here, reading Texas Monthly Magazine, I am stunned. The article is titled, Bob Perry Needs a Hug. It is a powerful piece on the housing crisis, political power, intimidation, and injustice. It is all spelled out clearly; and it is written simply so, no matter what your level of education, you cannot miss the point. The story is actually a postscript to the November 2005 issue, Hurt? Injured? Need a Lawyer? Too Bad!, by Mimi Swartz. No one got sued because these articles told the truth. It is in black and white for anyone to read; and no one seems outraged, or even ashamed. Worst of all, it is ongoing; and no one is even stopped or punished. It is just dually noted in the text.



In another venue, is the new book, Blocking the Courthouse Door, by Stephanie Mencimer, Chapter Three; Mess with Texas: George W. Bush and the Texas Tort Moguls. It reads like chapter one from the starship, Enterprise ... but it is all true! It is an eye-popping look at the people in power, who spun tort reform like cotton candy and handfed it to us. This exposé is an in-depth assessment of the incredulous and ongoing assault on the American consumer. An assault that began right here in the great state of Texas. Is this state now the breeding ground for infamy? ( Infamy: evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal, shocking, or brutal 2: an extreme and publicly known criminal or evil act 3: the state of being infamous) How well defined must these actions be?



Government agencies are bought and paid for, and the owner's name is mentioned as off-handedly as if it were in the society page. The same names appear that are found in the magazines and the newspapers, and these people are allowed to continue to stomp down any fear of reprisals with their checkbooks? Have we, the people, just given up? If we no longer think we matter then we don't.



It is all so absurd; it makes me think it is a bad dream or has to be make-believe. It brings to mind a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson called "The Emperor's New Clothes". Remember it? The emperor is narcissistic, powerful, and vain. He struts around in new clothes to gain the admiration of his subjects. His only passion is his attire. He is so bad that he attracts swindlers to his court, and they play on his vanity. They sell him on the idea that they, for a price, can weave cloth so magnificent and elaborate... that it has special power and is completely invisible to everyone who is stupid or not fit for his post. The emperor, even-though he cannot see this material, cannot admit it because he would be, in essence, admitting he is stupid and unfit for his post. So he sends for his 'yes men'. They, fearing reprisal, tell him what he wants to hear. They assure him they see the fabric, and it is as magnificent as befits a man of his station. He somehow has convinced himself that their approval of his preening, condones his ridiculous behavior.



His aids suggest that he should have new clothes made from this splendid material for the great procession that was the following day. Throughout the night, the swindlers made motions of looming and weaving, cutting and sewing... nothing. All the while, attesting to the king that it was the most exquisite outfit every to be worn. There was great excitement in the kingdom as every one had heard of the emperor's unbelievable threads. The rascal swindlers lifted up their arms to the emperor as if they were holding something. They proceeded with their scheme and asked the king to remove all his clothes so they could help him on with the new ones. They gave him the make-believe trousers and mantle. They remarked that the fabric was so light, it was as if he were wearing nothing, but remarked that - was the beauty of it.



All of his ministers cried out in unison, "Magnificent." The emperor looked at himself side to side in the mirror as if to observe the clothes that were not there. No one dared tell him the truth, as they would have declared themselves stupid and unfit for their posts. A canopy was held above him as he strolled out to greet his admiring public. They oohed and aahed along the route as he waved and smiled, confident of his importance. But all at once, a hushed little voice shockingly spoke up from the crowd. A small child gasped, "But he is not wearing any clothes." People began to whisper to one another what the child had said, 'til everyone was saying, "But he isn't wearing any clothes." The emperor himself had the uncomfortable feeling that what they were saying might be true, but he had to go through with the procession. So, he drew himself up and walked with his head higher than before; and the courtiers held onto the train that wasn't there.



The moral of the story ... there are a lot of naked people strutting around in Texas, desperately in need of a child's honesty.



There is a real sickness in today's society when we have to search for that small child's voice in the masses to shed light on the horrendous, disgraceful truth, and finally get some kind of movement started. – Something has to done about defective, atrocious, uninhabitable housing; and stop the homebuilders who shamefully erect them, ignore new homeowners' complaints, change the company name, and go right on building. Something has to be done NOW to protect consumers, the very fabric of the American dream, and halt the resulting wave of decimation throughout our nation's economy. Something has to be done about reversing "Tort Reform" so the system is fair again.



Jordan Fogal
jfogal281@aol.com
713-802-9727
Houston Texas 77007
google my name for more information