Omnibus means "stop"
Posted at 6:00 PM on March 14, 2007 by Bob Collins (2 Comments)
It's that most wonderful time of the year. The time when dozens and dozens of bills get aired before committees, nobody says a discouraging word, they're "laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill" and then one day a committee chair comes out of nowhere and says "this is what's going to be in the omnibus bill." It's an interesting thing to watch because it's followed by committee members trying -- desperately -- to get their bills added in after the fact. Unfortunately, we don't know what reasons were given to include, or not include, certain bills since that part isn't an open process. Is it the committee chair? Larry Pogemiller? Tarryl Clark? The governor? A combination of all of them. The icky part of this part of the process is this is where legislating goes out of the public view. And who gives the reasons -- and by the way, I'm sorry, "we don't have the money" doesn't cut it as a reason. It's not a matter of money; it's a matter of priorities and I've always thought there's a big flaw at this stage of the process because these "priorities" don't really get explained.
Wouldn't it be better when the original bills are heard for the chair to say, "Sorry, we don't have the money? Go away." But they don't. They're nice. Really nice. And then they unload on the sponsors when they come out -- as a couple did today -- and said "well, here's what's in the bill."
Anyway, long story short, I'm sticking with my original plan to consider a bill dead as soon as it reaches an omnibus bill stage. It's a nightmare scenario to try to keep straight what elements of what bills are in each omnibus bill, and once it hits the floor, what bills are no longer worth points because those provisions are stripped out. I'm a poltiical geek, but I'm not that much of a political geek.
Plus, I think considering omnibus bills dead -- in MFL terms -- as well as those bills that go into the omnibus bills -- helps level the playing field just a bit. Otherwise, we could probably stop tracking the Power Rankings now. It's sort of a "parity" movement, I guess.
And the next step is a salary cap.
"consider a bill dead as soon as it reaches an omnibus bill stage"
In my mind that makes for a good MFL policy.
I can understand your frustration with the omnibus bill process, and I have a small suggestion: Count the omnibus bill as one bill after it is put together by the budget divisions.
Once the committee chair presents her recommendations to her budget division of what should be in the omnibus bill, the division debates and amends the proposed bill. When that is done, they vote to have the product of their work made into the committee's omnibus bill. It is then put together and introduced as a bill that must be presented and passed by the Finance Committee (and sometimes the Tax Committee) and then by the full Senate. That bill then goes to a conference committee with the house.
It would be easy enough to count and track the bill from that point on as one bill -- not a bunch of bills put together in one document. They're a huge amount of work for the division chair/author, so it seems that work should be credited. After all, the omnibus bills make up $35 billion, give or take -- the entire two-year budget for the state.
For instance, the Public Safety omnibus bill now is Senate File 1992, the Higher Ed bill is now SF 1989, the Transportation bills are SF 1985 and 1986, and so on.
Posted by linda higgins | March 18, 2007 10:58 AM