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Beware the omnibus bill

Posted at 10:38 AM on February 9, 2007 by Bob Collins

I suppose if I were a legislator, I'd be thrilled to know my bill is being "laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill." If you read the fine daily reports on the House Information Department's fine Session Daily site, you'll start noticing this more often. For the legislator, it could mean the intention of the bill may be realized, if it gets moved along as part of an omnibus bill (which is the most important bill of a committee and sort of a ghoulash of other bills).

For the MFL "manager," however, it's the kiss of death. Omnibus bills don't earn any points once they become an omnibus bill and, unfortuntely for many of you, neither are the bills that go into the omnibus bill.

A couple of examples come to mind. HF2, all-day kindgarten, carried by Rep. Marsha Swails (a free-agent in both leagues) had, I thought, a good chance of accumulating points since I figured it'd bounce to a few committees, get debated, and , depending on the governor's interest in this, maybe even get an override point or too. Now it won't get anything. It's been laid over for inclusion in the omnibus bill. So it got 1 point for being filed and 5 points for being heard in committee. For all I know, HF2 will be the omnibus E-12 bill. Whatever. It's dead to me now in the MFL.

Same fate happened to Rep. Cy Thao's HF56, which seeks to combat the prostitution of women by Asian gangs. It was laid over yesterday. End of the line, MFL wise. Just the beginning where reality is concerned.

I realize the need for omnibus bills, but one of the problems is it makes it hard to track a legislator's position on specific issues. When we developed Votetracker, I think this is the first thing we realized. It's impossible to track omnibus bills by Votetracker because omnibus bills are made up of so many smaller initiatives, where ideally, I'd like to be able to tell you what a particular legislator's position is on all-day kindergarten, or gas tax, or Asian gangs in the prostitution business. But it's not possible with an omnibus bill since by the time a lawmaker goes on record for it, it's so full of stuff that many of them hold their nose and vote for it despite some misgivings about aspects of it (or not).