Imagine for a moment you are a member of the Idaho State Senate. (If you happen to be a member, you can just remember). On last Tuesday, here is some – not all – of what passed before you for your informed and careful consideration, and on which you were being asked to vote.
At the 10th order of business (we’ll just bypass the earlier nine) came votes to decide whether the Senate should agree with amendments made in the House to earlier-passed Senate bills: 1113 (on campaign finance), 1057 (on school improvement plans) and 1060 (early graduation in schools).
Next came a Senate concurrent resolution (116) to allow the Office of Performance Evaluations “to hire a consultant to study highway district consolidation and to review the role of the Local Highway Technical Assistance Council.” (It passed narrowly, 20 to 14.)
Next was first and second reading of a number of bills – no final decision – and a “report of the committee of the whole.” The committee of the whole is where bills can be amended on the Senate floor, so the senators were being asked to agree to decisions on amending two House bills, 217 (on local economic development) and 259 (having to do with how sales tax is collected under certain circumstances).
Then Third Reading, normally the centerpiece of business on the Senate floor, where final votes are done. But first came requests, as sometimes happens, to do other things – send them to other places for other sorts of action, or amendment or trashing – to three Senate bills, 1204 (on Medicaid eligibility), 1177 (on distributing horse racing funds) and 1124 (on grandparent visitation rights). All of these were done by unanimous consent: every senator had to okay it.
Okay, then. Here’s where the Senate votes up or down on actual bills. On this day, these included Senate Bill 2012 (the Tax Commission budget), Senate Bill 1203 (the Department of Labor budget), Senate Bill 2015 (administrative rules procedures), House Bill 78 (criminal diversion programs), House Bill 137 (dangerous dogs), House Bill 30 (“an evaluation committee when a criminal defendant’s alleged incompetency may be the result of a developmental disability”), House Bill 149 (self-funded health plans), House Bill 194 (internet use in public libraries) and House Bill 169 (a federalism committee).
That was all during the morning session, which ran from 9:30 to 12:19, a little less than three hours. You can imagine how much extensive debate each measure went through. Cough, cough.
In the afternoon session, which ran from to 2:30 to 4:42 – just over two hours – the Senate considered and passed 16 more bills (I won’t test your patience describing them all here, but they were as varied as in the morning), along with other action.
More or less the same happened about the same time in the Idaho House.
I didn’t single out Tuesday because it was unusual. To the contrary; in the latter weeks of an Idaho legislative session, most days run like this. (Hit the legislature’s web site for the House or Senate journals to get the details.) Think of those old-fashioned pneumatic tubes that use vacuum paper from one place to another; watching legislative floor action toward the end of a session is something like that, a high-speed factory of legislation shoveled in one side and pouring out the other.
Remarkably, it mostly works, allowing for mistakes here and there and differences in whatever you may think of the choices made. But let there be no pretense that slow, thoughtful, painstaking deliberation was made over each and every one of those decisions. True, committees generally review these measures as well, but the final decisions are made by all the legislators, including the large majority who didn’t serve on the committees involved. (None of this is unique to Idaho, either.)
So when you hear a legislator tell you, as some may try to do in the weeks and months ahead, that Idaho’s legislators are far better equipped and able to spend time and effort in carefully evaluating the hundreds of pieces of legislation introduced in a session (about 500 so far this year) than ordinary voters – they’re just snowflakes, you see – could possibly spend over a period of a year or more considering four or five ballot issues …
Well. You might want to apply more than a droplet of skepticism to that argument.