Dorso Column: The Legislature Is In The Swing Of Things Now

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Your legislators are in to the swing of things now. There are 468 House bills and 375 Senate bills which will have to be dealt with. There is always the possibility of delayed bills being introduced after the deadlines the House and Senate have imposed on themselves, but that shouldn’t be a significant number.

As the standing committees grind through their work, a number of issues will rise to the surface. Some are difficult because they are truly important public policy issues with proponents and opponents. Others become difficult because they have a constituency that thinks a law should be enacted to resolve an issue only important to them. These special interest bills don’t get much attention from the public but they still take up time down in the committees and on the floor of the chamber.

Legislators deal with many different boards (realtors, barbers, and petroleum dealers etc.). Most of the time these self-regulating boards work out their issues on proposed legislation before they introduce the bills. Sometimes they don’t and that is when you see some interesting dynamics.

Once the beauticians wanted to outlaw brush rollers. Those are the round rollers with little plastic spikes that hold the hair better. The contention was that all kinds of little vermin hung around down in there causing the spread of scalp diseases. The battle raged for weeks. Many a gray-haired lady appeared in defense of the much-maligned instruments of a fine coiffure. The board insisted that from a sanitary standpoint they had to be outlawed. What were legislators to do?

You may think it was silly and a waste of the legislature’s time, but it was a real issue that took a lot of time because of the number of people who had an interest in the outcome. I don’t remember if we passed the bill or not. I do remember that a committee member, who heard the bill, got everyone’s attention on the floor. He announced that it was quite important for us to be paying attention as the vermin were having sex among the bristles.

My point is that what some of you may think is silly is important to someone, and that is what is great about your legislature. Every bill that is introduced gets a hearing and a final disposition.

I always felt that if we couldn’t come up with a satisfactory bill the best thing to do was to defeat the legislation. If the topic was important the bills would usually show up in the next legislative session with a new twist. Sometimes an agreement had been reached and in other cases there wasn’t a satisfactory solution and they would be defeated again. Some were seen for numerous sessions and never resolved. Others would pass only to have another bill introduced the following session trying to correct the mistakes contained in the first version.

Probably the most troubling of the special interest bills are those introduced by the various agencies of state government. Some of the legislation is the agency’s own and others are in response to federal law and regulations. The Department of Human Services introduces a lot of legislation because of the feds. I imagine the natural resources committees are also busy with bills generated by the Industrial Commission in response to the increase in oil and gas production.

Legislation is introduced and passed by agencies to keep the feds out of our hair. In all areas, it is very important for the state to control as much of the regulatory scheme as possible. If you get a chance to serve in the legislature you’ll find out how deeply the federal government has intruded on state law and your lives. Just as in Washington most Democrats will accept more laws and regulations while the Republicans look with jaundiced eye on our overreaching governments.

As an example, when I was Majority Leader a Republican legislator came to my office to tell me of a law that the Department of Human Services said we had to pass. It was the Department’s contention that it was a mandate from the feds. I was skeptical because I had been in D.C. just a month before and heard a discussion on that very topic. I told the legislator to go back down to the committee and ask the bureaucrat to bring the regulation to the committee in black and white.

When he couldn’t produce the document his credibility suffered and we avoided passing legislation that wasn’t necessary.

Your citizen legislators are putting in a lot of time trying to sift through a myriad of issues. Some they have firsthand knowledge of and on others they need a lot of input from many sources. If you have something to add don’t hesitate to make your thoughts known. If you need to be critical do it respectfully. Remember these folks are your neighbors.

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