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< Conference committee points awarded | Main | Dead issue: same-sex benefits >

Ode to a snoring commissioner

Posted at 5:41 PM on May 2, 2007 by Bob Collins (2 Comments)

These are the type of days when I kick myself for not making Floor Session Palooza worth 100 points a pop -- or 50 -- or something other than 1 stinking point.

These are boring days at the Capitol for the likes of the MFL. The omnibus bills are dead, but even if they weren't -- MFL wise -- they'd be lulled into a deep coma by the endless droning of conference committee meetings.

The floor sessions are relatively interesting, although these days it's like dragging the summer clothes out of the closet. The ticket scalping bill (and, admit it, you first heard about this bill right here on the MFL!) has been sitting in the cedar chest of the House since February.

Alas, there are few points presently being awarded, but maybe that'll change soon as House and Senate leaders look for something to do (hey, let's pass a bill!) while waiting for the conference committees to do their thing.

I got a call from the DFL caucus today. Apparently some of its members (read: legislators) aren't happy about how they're being profiled on this bill on MPR's Votetracker. We originally started tracking the separate bill (SF1369), which would have provided insurance benefits to the same-sex partners of state employees.

There was just one problem: the bill would never make it on its own. So it ended up being rolled into the omnibus state government bill, figuring that people wouldn't vote down an entire bill just on this one provision. That, far too often, is how omnibus bills are used.

Only something happened along the way. People voted against the state government spending bill -- presumably because it spent too much money -- and, since the Republicans didn't try to amend the domestic partner benefit out of the bill, thus depriving us having a legislative vote on the record on the issue -- then the only vote left standing was the vote on the entire state government spending bill. Seventeen DFLers -- many of them freshmen -- voted against the bill.

So, when looking at a voting record, a legislator is on record as having voted against domestic partner benefits for state employees. Their complaint seems to be that while they voted against the bill, they say they didn't vote against the bill because of the domestic partner benefits for state employees. Maybe that's not a big deal now, but, yes, these voting records are going to be available next year (as they are now) on the Legislative Voters Guide on our Campaign 2008 Web site (still in production).

My view? Too bad. You voted against the bill and it's up to you to explain to your constituents why you voted against the bill, and you have no choice but to hope they'll believe you. Unless you voted on the separate bill in committee, there's no record of how you feel about it other than how you voted on the overall bill. I didn't make the rules. I didn't roll the bill into an omnibus bill, and I wasn't the one forced to cast a vote one way or another.

Rep. Mark Olson warned lawmakers a few weeks that it's a bad practice to put controversial provisions in an omnibus bill precisely for this reason, but lawmakers would rather eat raw squid than acknowledge that Rep. Olson was right.

If you're a legislator, here's how you get around the problem. When the bill comes to the floor, you file an amendment to the strip the provision, then you vote against your own amendment. Now it's on the record how you feel about an issue. But, count your votes first.

Comments (2)

When a conference committee comes back from conference, it is not amendable. It's an up-or-down vote on the bill.

Posted by linda higgins | May 2, 2007 9:00 PM

Right, I realize it's too late now for the House members to save themselves on this issue. I should've indicated this is how you get on the record on specific issue on omnibus bills when they come to the floor (the first time).

This happened on the Senate side, of course, because Sen. Limmer proposed an amendment to get the provision out.

On the House side, nobody did. In fact, I think only Kahn and Westrom - as I recall -- proposed any amendments, neithre having anything to do with this issue.

Now that it's in conference committee, I'm inclined to leave the Senate vote on Votetracker on the issue as is, since it is SPECIFICALLY about the issue. But I'll update the House vote since it will again be in the bill.

Assuming it stays in the bill. and I assume it will since I believe the DFL has the GOP outnumbered here 8-2.

Live by the omnibus bill. Die by the omnibus bill I say.

Posted by Bob Collins | May 2, 2007 9:35 PM