June 20, 2018
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Interesting bill making methods

By Bernard AyotteSpecial to the BDN, Special to the BDN

Having served three years in the Legislature, I have noticed some rather interesting methods and tactics that are used in the bill making process. I would like to share these observations so that the people of Maine may better understand the modus operandi of a part-time legislature.

I have chosen the following four areas of concern: the misnaming of bills when initially submitted; the gutting of bills; the seldom mentioned unintended consequences of a bill; and last, how bills submitted by departments or the governor take precedence over regularly submitted bills.

The misnaming of bills is an intentional tactic used by senators and representatives in an attempt to make the bill sound more benign and acceptable, giving it therefore a better chance of passage both in committee and on the floor. If the real intention or purpose of the bill would be actually placed in the title, the bill would most probably, and mercifully, not reach the light of day. This particular tactic, to a novice legislator, I find to be a most disagreeable deception and, at times, frustrating.

The second tactic used in the Legislature is the gutting of bills, which has the consequence of neutralizing the benefits of the initial intended purpose. This is usually done or accomplished by leadership with the intention of appeasing the person who submitted the bill, while at the same time rendering its initial purpose completely ineffective. In many cases the bill will maintain its same title without even the real submitter of the bill having the knowledge of what has occurred. This particular tactic can be frustrating and cause the legislator to provide false information to his or her constituent inadvertently.

The third observation is not so much a tactic but rather becomes a result of misnaming or misleading bill titles. Of all the four issues mentioned, this one can be the most devastating and destructive. The “unintended consequences” of a bill that is passed without sufficient study, research or knowledge can cause unemployment to rise in communities, taxes to increase and factories to be shut down or reduce production. It is important that all bills be studied in a sufficient manner so that the unintended results, whether good or bad, positive or negative, will be fully understood by the legislator and by the constituents that he or she represents. In a number of cases the unintended results seem to be purposely minimized so as to ensure a more likely passage of the bill. As we discovered in the last referendums, the Legislature does not necessarily represent the will of the people. In many cases it seems to represent the most vociferous, or the group with the deepest pockets.

The last issue is a trend that not only I have noticed but also a number of fellow representatives. A bill submitted by a department or agency seems to run a much better chance of passage than one submitted by a legislator. There are a number of reasons that may explain this phenomenon. Among them is that many legislators feel that the bill has the authority of the state or there are a number of expert witnesses testifying on behalf of the bill or they have the preponderance of knowledge necessary to defend the bill. This is especially true in the case of a governor’s bill. In any case it is a diminution of your freedoms and lacks the important scrutiny of your peers.

I would like my constituents to know that all these issues give me cause for concern. I do not wish to be constantly trying to determine the motives behind a bill, but rather would like to have the luxury of taking the bill at face value, rather than being constantly suspect as to why someone submitted this or that bill. It must also be remembered that, in a larger sense, these are minor incongruities when one considers it still remains the finest means of governing in the world.

Bernard Ayotte, R-Caswell, represents District 3 in the Maine House of Representatives.

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