“But we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it,
away from the fog of the controversy.”
– Nancy Pelosi
The Obamacare bill was so long that even Nancy Pelosi knew it was too long to read.
Having too much to read is also a problem in the Arkansas Senate and Arkansas House of Representative but it is not because of a single 1200 page bill. So much legislation is filed that not only is it difficult for legislators to keep up with all the legislation, it is also very hard for advocate groups and citizens to keep up too.
Let’s take Arkansas’ Common Core legislation as an example. In 2009, Department of Education wanted to make a number of changes to Education laws with Common Core being one of them. Common core was forced on local schools with the help of Act 898 of 2009. Some legislators were for Common Core and still are. But were there other factors that helped Common Core pass in Arkansas?
If you read the Section by itself, it is clear that Common Core is the subject.
SECTION 14. Arkansas Code § 6-15-403, concerning the authority of the State Board of Education pertaining to the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing, Assessment, and Accountability Program, is amended to add an additional subsection to read as follows:
(b) To transition to and implement the Common Core State Standards, the State Board of Education may:
(1) Modify curriculum and assessment requirements;
(2) Adopt new curriculum and assessment requirements; and
(3) Direct the Department of Education to:
(A) Propose to the state board rules and procedures; and
(B) Develop the professional development needed to train 31 educators on the transition and implementation.
Hidden in the middle where it might not be noticed.
Notice that Common Core doesn’t appear until Section 14 of the bill which was on page 6 of a 35 page bill. The location in the middle of the bill probably hid it from some legislators and certainly from some citizens who would have urged their legislators to oppose the provision.
Hidden because the Title doesn’t mention Common Core.
There was nothing in the title that would have alerted legislators or the public that Common Core was included. The title reads:
AN ACT TO AMEND VARIOUS PROVISIONS OF ARKANSAS CODE TITLE 6 CONCERNING PUBLIC EDUCATION; TO MAKE TECHNICAL CORRECTIONS TO TITLE 6; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
A few decades ago it was not uncommon to see much longer Titles in bills. Some bills listed every subject in the bill. Occasionally a title would be more than a page long because the bill had many related subjects. When the House or Representatives started using an electronic board in the chamber to display the bill title the House insisted that all bills also have a short title called a “Subtitle” so that the subtitle would fit on the electronic board. As time went by fewer bills had long titles and the titles began to more closely resemble the shorter subtitles. This trend gave even less information to those legislators who tend to just skim bills and their titles.
I used to caution new legislators to be wary about bill titles like the one in Act 898 of 2009. Let me pass my advice on to you, as you, the public, look at Arkansas Legislation.
Beware of bills with titles like “Amend Various Sections”, “Omnibus Bill”, “To Clarify the Law” or “To Make Technical Corrections”. Sometimes this is intended to put your mind at ease while something substantial is slipped in. In the past some bills “to clarify” or “to make technical corrections” have been used to change the outcome of litigation.
Also, beware of bills with titles that just state a popular name. The popular name is often meant to sell the bill, and despite the catchy name, it could include much that you do not like.
Hidden in a sea of bills.
“We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.” Nancy Pelosi’s statement seems to apply to Arkansas, but not necessarily because of the length of a particular bill. In Arkansas the problem you must overcome as a legislator or as a citizen is how to read the large NUMBER OF BILLS filed.
During the 2013 Regular Session there were 2,492 bills filed (House 1300 and Senate 1192). Of those bills 1,520 became law. This all happened in just a few months. Now consider that many of those bills were amended along the way. Sometimes a bill was amended several times. Sometimes the amendment rewrote the whole bill. To actually keep up, each amendment be scrutinized to see what it does to the legislation. If all that wasn’t enough, legislators are also dealing with many resolutions, including the Joint Resolutions that were ratified by the people in the November Election.
How does a legislator keep up with all this legislation? The answer is: It is unlikely that they can. At times, some legislators have formed study groups to try to review all of the bills that will be on the agenda for the next day. That helps but it is still a big project and many legislators do not participate in such a group. How do you as an advocacy group or individual make sure there isn’t something offense in a seeming innocuous bill.
A number of states impose a bill limit on the number of bills a legislator may file, just to keep down the number of bills that must be read. In the past it has been discussed by some legislators, but at the time there wasn’t much support for limiting bill filings.
For many years, State legislators have discussed the problem of so many bills, but so far they have no come up with a solution for Arkansas.
Common Core Summary.
Some of the legislators who voted for Common Core in 2009 still support Common Core, and Common Core wasn’t as known and disliked in 2009 as it is in 2014. Still, passage of the bill in 2009 may have been dependent on less notice being taken of the bill because:
- It appeared in the middle of a 35 page bill;
- The title avoided telling legislators that Common Core was included;
- The bill appeared to be a routine Education bill among a sea of other bills.
It is interesting to note that although passage in the Senate was unanimous, when it went to the House of Representatives for approval some opposition appeared. In the House of Representatives there were still no “no” votes but fifteen House members refused to cast a vote, which has the same effect as a “no.” I do not know, but wouldn’t be surprised if word had gotten out that a vote for the bill was a vote for Common Core.
But I didn’t know
During the last election the American people did not give congressmen a pass just because the Obamacare legislation was too long for them to read. The same can be expected in Arkansas as both Democrats and Republicans (and even Libertarians) examine legislative records of candidates. Unfortunately for legislators, it doesn’t matter if the objectionable law is on page 1 or 101 of the bill, voters still hold them accountable for what they should have known.
RECAP: In 2013 the Arkansas Legislature filed 2,492 bills and passed 1,520 of the bills as law. “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.”