As legislators headed home for the weekend the Gold Dome is a pretty quiet place today. The halls are relatively quiet and only a few people are visible walking around, With the final Senate Rules Committee meeting taking place yesterday, the hopes and dreams of many bill sponsors are clearer or potentially dead.
While I am personally cheering on Senator and Majority Whip Randy Robertson for making sure HB 88, The Coleman Baker Act made it onto the calendar for a Senate vote, other advocates are still hoping against hope that their bills are given a chance to catch a ride on some other legislation.
And in spite of what others may have you believe, no bill, and I mean nothing, is dead until twin gavels strike with a call of Sine Die. As a legislator who was often on the outs with leadership yet still had many friends all over the building, this was my favorite part of session. If my bills got squashed because of a no vote on a tax increase, I went to work trying to find a vehicle for my best bills.
For the uninitiated, a vehicle is a slang term for a bill that is used to get other bills passed. The example most famous at the moment is how certain members of the Senate are using a Soap Box Derby bill and turning it into one about Sports Gambling.
Most famously, with a lot of help from the Lieutenant Governor’s office, I had a bill about student loan debt attached to something else and passed in a conference committee report after 11:00 PM on Sine Die in 2019. After 2015, I began using this process extensively and all the way up until my retirement in 2021.
Some look down on the use of vehicles as a circumvention of the legislative process. But in an environment where good ideas are not given fair consideration because of factors that have nothing to do with the quality of the bill, I would argue it is the legislative process. It is an important tool to go around one person who may be standing in the way and taking it to the whole body for a vote. Our process wasn’t meant for one person to block a good idea because they don’t like the bill sponsor.
And so while it may seem quiet at the Gold Dome today, I guarantee you that there are staff, lobbyists, and legislators alike searching for vehicles for their good ideas that didn’t make it onto a debate calendar. Come Monday, the Gold Dome will buzz again as we race toward Sine Die, but don’t be fooled by how quiet things are around here today. The storm is raging, even now, if just below the surface.