Can’t those 29 malcontents just pass House bills without all this rigmarole?
As the Legislature winds down to its final hours (which could be fewer than some may imagine – more on that at the bottom of this story), House Republicans were told a hard political truth Wednesday: They aren’t passing enough Senate-desired bills. And if the 61 GOP representatives don’t get with the program, “you are just killing your own bills.”
That was the warning from House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.
The usually soft-spoken first female speaker of the House raised her voice a bit in chiding her caucus members at a noon caucus lunch.
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, whose job it is to track House bills through the Senate in the final days (and he can be a pit-bull if things don’t go properly), said that he can’t start yelling at senators about their inaction (the senior body tends to saunter a lot the last week of each session) if House members address so few Senate sponsored bills.
Between 8 a.m. Wednesday and noon, the House voted on 13 Senate bills, while the Senate voted on 34 House measures – and sauntered for a while and recessed at 11:30 a.m. to take an early lunch.
But there is unhappiness among some of the House Republicans concerning the Senate in general, and some specific Senate bills now coming over to the House this final week.
As one House Republican told UtahPolicy: “I can’t believe these education bills that the Senate is sending over – so many of them are substantial changes and they never got a House hearing.”
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said games are being played by some senators, who are holding their bills in that body until the House stops holding standing committee hearings, so that the controversial Senate measures don’t get a hearing in the House.
Two other House Republicans complained about Sen. John Valentine’s move to consolidate several House alcohol-related bills into one “master” liquor bill.
HB228 passed the Senate Wednesday morning by a 25-1. But it doesn’t include the repeal of the so-called Zion Curtain, which the House passed earlier this session, nor does it include several other liquor reform measures that flew through the House.
Now, because of parliamentary process, House members can either vote to agree with Valentine’s changes, or they can refuse, and a conference committee is appointed to work out disagreements.
In short, the whole House can’t amend the new HB228, only the conference committee can do that.
“I think we should stand firm,” said one House Republican. “Either we get the liquor bills (not wrapped into HB228) that we’ve already passed, or there is no liquor (reform) bill this year at all.”
Tough talk – which usually dwindles away in face of hard opposition from the other body as Thursday midnight approaches.
And speaking of midnight Thursday – the usual witching hour when all Legislatures must end – Lockhart told her caucus that now that the 2013-2014 budget has been settled and all of the required spending bills passed (as of Wednesday), “We really don’t have to stick around until the (normal) end.”
In fact, the only budget-related bill left this session is the Bill of Bills – so named because it funds all of the last-minute legislation that costs money, in either ongoing funding or one-time appropriation of surplus cash.
A list of those “money” bills was passed out at the open House GOP caucus.
“If you don’t have a bill on this list,” said Lockhart, “you may not want to stick around” until a midnight adjournment – but rather vote to leave early.
In fact, in past general sessions it has happened that the Senate, all of its priority bills passed, has adjourned before midnight – and the House can then only pass Senate bills, can’t amend them because the Senate isn’t there to agree to the changes.
Dunnigan said someone should be talking to the House Democrats about talking too long on the floor on Senate bills.
It could be a strategy by the minority party to talk long in debate, thus the House can’t pass many Senate bills, thus the Senate saunters and doesn’t pass House bills.
With most of the bills being passed in the final week being House and Senate Republican bills, the fewer bills passed, the better the Democrats like it.
“We’ve thought about reshuffling the Senate board,” Hughes piped up, meaning Democratic sponsored House bills wouldn’t get a Senate vote.
Said Hughes: “It’s all gravy for them” – the Democrats – to see House GOP bills killed in the Senate via inaction by senators for the House not passing enough GOP Senate measurers.
“But. . .” Hughes started to say.
House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, then pushed Hughes back down in his seat, so that he couldn’t continue with the idea of the majority purposely killing minority bills for retaliation for the Democrats speaking too much on the House floor – a stifling of free speech that wouldn’t look to good to the media and many in the public.
Wednesday morning, House members debated one Senate bill for an hour, then voted 70-4 in favor of it.
Such long-windedness will just result in fewer House bills passing the Senate, leaders said.
“Vote no on a bill if you want,” said Hughes. But just don’t talk so much.
Finally, Lockhart, who runs the electronic vote-counting program from the speaker’s chair, said it may come to her cutting off the vote when a bill hits 38 votes – either for passage or for defeat – and slow-voting representatives will just lose out on the chance to vote.