Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Extremely Low Batting Average Of Withdraw Attempts

Oregon House Democrats launched another attempt today at yanking legislation out of committee and onto the floor for a vote. Backers of the legislation specified in the three "discharge petitions" have until next Tuesday at 5 p.m. to convince at least 31 House lawmakers to sign the petitions, which are located in a three-ring binder in the House Clerk's office.

The "discharge petition" is new this year, but the concept existed in a different form in recent sessions. Under the previous rules, someone could make a motion on the floor to withdraw a specific bill from committee. Lawmakers would immediately vote on that motion, meaning the outcome was known right away. In fact, that's how it's still done in the Oregon Senate. Coming into this year's session in the House, lawmakers agreed that with a 30-30 split, the prospect of repeated attempts to withdraw legislation could bog things down. So leaders came up with the discharge petition concept. The fact that supporters now have five days to round up support adds new drama to what otherwise has proven to be an ineffective method of advancing legislation.

In fact, going back to the 2007 session, there have been more than 50 attempts at withdrawing bills in an effort to bypass the normal committee process. Not counting the three new petitions launched today, I counted a grand total of 54 separate votes or petitions. While six of the attempts resulted in the bill coming up for a floor vote, in not a single case did the legislation eventually get approved by both chambers and signed into law. One reason for this is that these moves generally come late in a session, so even if the first chamber approves the bill, the second chamber has in some cases just days to act.

The current series of discharge petitions is different in one sense, however. Two of the bills in play have already been approved by the Senate. So if they reach the floor for a vote, it would be final passage. If approved, they would head directly to the governor's desk. But that also was the case for the recently failed discharge petition for SB 695, which fell five signatures short of reaching a floor vote. In that case, supporters had an ace up their sleeves, but it remains to be seen whether the new bill will pass.

Of course, discharge petitions or motions to withdraw are rarely a genuine attempt to pass legislation. Often, they're fairly transparent efforts to get the opposing party on record on a particular issue. For proof, look no further than this morning's motion to withdraw SJR-18 from the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee. Senate Republicans made the move even though three members of their own caucus weren't even there for the floor vote.

New BPA Bill Introduced

Here's a first look at the bill being introduced today that would ban the chemical BPA from children's beverage containers such as baby bottles and sippy cups. If HB 3689 looks familiar, it's because it's an exact duplicate of the failed SB 695. That bill, you may recall, passed the Senate in early April but failed to make it out of a House committee. The Democratic co-chair of that committee, Ben Cannon, filed a "discharge petition" to get the bill to a floor vote.

That effort came up five signatures short yesterday. For it to succeed, 31 lawmakers needed to sign it. But by yesterday's 5 p.m. deadline, only 26 had done so. All 26 names were Democrats. The four Democrats who did not sign it were Brian Clem, Greg Matthews, Mike Schaufler, and Co-Speaker Arnie Roblan. Interestingly, Representatives Clem and Matthews are listed as co-sponsors of the newly introduced HB 3689.

But while today's "resurrection" of the BPA ban may be hailed as a positive development by those in favor of the ban, the issue is still a long way from being resolved. First, even though the new bill has two Republicans listed as co-sponsors, it still has to go through the committee process. The measure will likely be assigned to the House Rules Committee, which is one of the few committees still operating at this point in the session. To put things in perspective, the House Rules Committee has 177 pieces of legislation still active at this point, meaning any new measure is going to face a lot of competition to get noticed.

Secondly, assuming the bill does make it out of committee and succeed on the floor, it would have to go back over to the Senate. While that chamber approved the original legislation by a 20-9 vote in April, there's no telling what would happen this time around.