It Isn’t Over Until It’s Over
by Tom Yamachika, President, Tax Foundation Hawaii
We’ve come to that part of our legislative session where all the public hearings are done. From here on out, lawmakers in the House will be chatting with their counterparts in the Senate to hash out any differences between their respective versions of bills. Most of that will be done behind closed doors. Then, when a deal has been struck, lawmakers will dutifully file into a conference room to vote on and pass out final versions of bills called Conference Drafts.
In the meantime, lawmakers have been figuring out how to bypass conventional learning about when a bill is dead. Here is one example.
House Bill 1327, as introduced, proposed giving teachers a tax credit to essentially pay them back for classroom expenses that they paid out of their own pockets.
The bill sailed through the House, crossed over to the Senate, and was there referred to the Education and Ways & Means Committees, in that order. A couple of weeks went by, and the deadline for bills to advance through their first committees came and went. Senate Education did not hear the bill. So, it looked like the bill was dead.
On April 4th, however, the Senate President’s office re-referred the bill solely to Ways & Means, which immediately scheduled the bill for a hearing on April 5th (giving the public fewer than the normal 48 hours’ notice) and passed the bill out on the 5th, one day before the deadline for filing final committee reports on bills.
We are not saying that anything improper was done here. There is a procedure for re-referring bills and for approving hearings with short notice. All those procedures were properly followed, we assume. Nor do we have any particular objections to the teacher tax credit bill.
We are using this bill to illustrate that bills that seem to be dead aren’t necessarily so.
There are also other techniques to advance the ideas in “dead” bills. Their content can be spliced into other bills that are still alive, for example, if the recipient bill has a broad enough title and the other contents of the recipient bill are similar enough to the “dead” bill so that it can’t be termed a “gut and replace.”
“Gut and replace” may be tougher to pull off these days, but there are still techniques available to do interesting things. At the Legislature, then, it’s not over until it’s over.