By Russ Stilwell
Never Should Have Happened!
The House Republican Leadership team has made the 2012 session of the General Assembly a historical lesson on how to pass a divisive and contentious bill by using the most excruciating procedural sequences ever envisioned. This grueling process lacked clarity, rules, direction or any semblance of a seamless process. It never should have happened this way.
I’m sure they’re not particularly fond of the hundreds of protesting Hoosiers every day. No doubt they’re not very pleased with the minority using every rule in the book, and those that are not included, in their mission to stop the RTW bill.
No doubt, the House R’s had the votes to pass RTW from the very first day of the session. There was no doubt that House D’s would oppose this every step of the way, including the occasional withholding of their presence.
Even a casual observer of the legislative process could have outlined a far more efficient and practical legislative pathway to pass RTW than the non medicated tooth-extraction course of action the House R’s invented.
Given the ill-advised pathway to pass RTW, what did they expect? They knew that labor would make this a most painful process. They had to know that the House D’s would be fightin’ and screamin’ every painful step of the way.
And what did they do? They made it easy for the opposition to cry “foul play” and for House D’s to march off to caucus. Let’s reexamine.
Number 1: Whoever concocted the that ill-advised statehouse policy of limiting the number of folks allowed in the statehouse under the guise of public safety & fire codes must have been not only politically challenged, but totally lacking in the expected and immediate public outcry.
The opposition to this ill-fated policy was strong and vigorously opposed by every major news outlet in the state. Only after a public outcry, was the admission to the capitol policy rescinded! The legislative Republican leadership was silent on the issue until public outcry corrected their senses! And this was just what the House D’s and the labor community needed to fire up the troops. Never should have happened!
Number 2: In my 14 years in the legislature, I had never seen a joint House/Senate committee hearing on one issue, let alone one that would be the most contentious in a half-century. If the House R’s had just scheduled their Labor Committee (actually, the name changes every time the House majority changes; Labor committee for D’s and Employment committee for R’s) to have a hearing in the House Chamber, endured the hours of testimony and kept the process open, then the D’s would have only had one choice. To participate, offer amendments and vote.
But no, in a rush to pass the contentious bill they just had to do the unthinkable. Infuriate the D’s, give credibility to labor who shouted “unfair” and belabor the painful process they set in motion when they attempted to deny entrance to the statehouse.
Number 3: What about the House Labor Committee hearing? When the Speaker of the House suggests it wasn’t “democracy’s finest moment”, you can bet the labor and the House D’s would have a swift reaction! What were they thinking? All they had to do was do what they should have done in the first place. Just endure the pain of another lengthy hearing, let everyone have their say and pass the bill with the predicted party line positions.
In their rush to send this fateful bill to the floor, they provided more gunpowder to a flotilla of opposition that was already getting ready to explode. What were they thinking?
Number 4: Once the House D’s returned for a painful afternoon of amendments to the RTW bill, only a fraction of the amendments had been offered in the first four hours. You think they thought this wasn’t going to be an all-day-ass-kickin’ exercise of amendments, roll call votes, statesmanship and showmanship? After that long six second period of silence when Speaker Bosma called for “any more amendments”, he gaveled the dreadful RTW initiative to engrossment.
What? After waiting for an eternity for the D’s to come to the floor and only a couple hours short of victory, why would he not allow additional amendments when challenged at about the precise time he gaveled the bill closed? He certainly had the right to engross, but political common sense dictated a far more exhaustive call for amendments, given the rancor of this particular legislative exercise. The House D reaction? A political novice could have predicted that outcome..
As I write this column on Wednesday morning, I make the painful assumption that the House will convene, muster a quorum, pass RTW and claim victory. The war may be over, but the battle will surely continue when the Senate again takes up this fateful bill. Let’s hope they don’t make the same mistakes the House did.
I would suggest they have a full and open public committee hearing. I would hope that they would endure the opposition with their myriad of amendments. And I would hope that they process this House Bill just like they always do – during the second half of the session, just like they have for decades.
However, after reviewing the previous actions in their zealous attempt to pass RTW in a record-breaking pace, nothing will surprise me.