Does anyone remember the commercial in the 80’s – “Time to make the Donuts?”
Day after day, the same man does the same job, over and over and over again. After being in Georgia’s General Assembly for the past three sessions, sadly, I can relate. Unfortunately, in our case, we are not dealing with donuts.
Otto von Bismarck once famously compared legislating to sausage making. While we can never entirely get away from some of the “sausage making”, there are several ways that the legislative process in our General Assembly can be improved.
As a State Senator, I have found many things wrong with our system of crafting public policy during my time in the legislature. However, I find that the single greatest obstacle to a transparent legislative process is the way Conference Committee Reports are handled. For those of you not informed on the Conference Committee process, it goes something like this- If the House and Senate cannot agree on a bill then leadership appoints a Conference Committee (usually made up of 3 people from each chamber) to meet, in hopes that a compromise can be made. Once an agreement is met, the conferees present a report to all members of the assembly for review.
While Conference Committees are a great way to compromise, it is also a great way to largely impact legislation without members of the General Assembly or the public even realizing it. Many are surprised to learn that, at times, we are only given 60 minutes to read, understand and decide how to vote on a piece of legislation once the report hits our desks. If members are only given 60 minutes, in certain circumstances, before voting on the issue- imagine the opportunity, or lack thereof, for the public to be heard. Not to mention, many times, the bill that was originally vetted through the “process” may be completely different in the final draft. For example, one Conference Report we received addressing fishing licenses included a provision that made a significant change to Georgia’s ethics law. And while I do enjoy fishing, I don’t see how it is any relation to ethics.