This bum’s rush, hurry-up offense is being put on more and more legislative work — not just the budget, but policy and general legislation. Most committees don’t hold full-on hearings or debates anymore. They’ve become quick huddles called shortly before deadlines, during which bills are handed out, then votes are called a few minutes later. Bills aren’t so much vetted in committee as they are either passed by acclamation or not taken up at all. In at least a couple of instances this session, committee votes were held without lawmakers even having updated versions of the bills in hand.
In the House, Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, does frequently hold GOP caucus meetings. But these (which are closed) appear to be more to gauge a controversial measure’s pass/fail potential more than to seek rank-and-file input. But maybe I’m wrong — they are secret, after all.
Most rank-and-file lawmakers are given info on a need-to-know basis, and apparently they don’t need to know many things until it’s time to vote. This strikes me as odd, that secrecy and timing strat-e-gery have increased even as Republicans have increased their hold on the Legislature to a super-majority. The Democratic Party is barely a going concern in state government these days. From whom is the leadership trying to keep secrets?
This secrecy and lack of communication has been most profound around the effort to rewrite the state’s adequate education funding formula. Legislative leaders hired a consultant and vowed to rewrite the formula in this year’s regular session. But for reasons that remain a secret to all but a few, it didn’t happen. It’s expected to be a major overhaul of public education funding, but — again — details remain a secret. It might be brought up in special session — whenever that might be — but legislative leaders won’t say whether they’re close to having a final agreement.
They have, in a great show of transparency and openness, said they’ll give rank-and-file lawmakers at least a couple of days to digest what could be a sea change for public education, the state budget and even local taxes.
But until then, it’s a secret. I guess you can’t let just anybody know details in advance about how the state will spend $2.4 billion in tax dollars and educate children. Not even many of those who will be asked to pass it into law.