THE LAW AND SAUSAGE
March 19, 2008
There's an old saying a German friend of mine told me a long while ago, and it has proven to be true. It goes like this, "Those who love the law or sausage should not see either being made." I can't say that I was ignorant about sausage at all, but until last year, when I found myself in the ironic position of trying to get a law enacted to protect us from regulation, I wasn't aware of how completely ridiculous the legislative process actually was.
Since they took Civics out of public school long before I graduated from those hallowed halls, I hadn't much in the way of real knowledge beyond "I'm a Bill on Capitol Hill." I knew there were a lot of steps and that it wasn't easy, but not that it was actually perverse. Based on what I've learned, I'm going to tell you a little story, and I do hope you'll enjoy it.
The first step is to get a bill introduced. This is what people are continually sending you action alerts about "call to support this bill," or "contact to object to that bill." Getting something introduced is the easy part. They are read twice, meaning the summary is read, and then placed on the calendar to be referred to committee. Most legislation never goes beyond the introduction phase for various reasons. Perhaps because the power structure doesn't care about the issue, or possibly even the one who introduced the bill doesn't care about it, or even as a matter of popularity regarding the legislator who introduced the bill. But when it does go beyond the simple introduction, it can get very interesting in very short order. In the case of our bill, Missouri Senate Bill 428, it was a very good piece of legislation, that addressed several issues in NAIS and would have basically stopped the Missouri Dept of Agriculture from participating and made the program truly voluntary in Missouri kept it at the Federal level as well. It made it through committee unscathed, and then was read a third time, debated and voted upon. It made it through our Senate and left with a vote of 29 for and 2 against. Things were looking good.
Then it went to the House and all hell broke loose. Despite many appeals to Speaker Rod Jetton to have this bill assigned to a committee with a friendly Chair instead of an adversarial one, he assigned it to the House Ag Policy committee with Representative John Quinn as Chair. This is where it began to get interesting or sickening depending on your position. The hearing was given and several citizens testified for the bill alongside Senator Purgason, who was present as the author of the bill. Then those opposed to the bill testified against it. These included the usual suspects, Farm Bureau, and the Missouri Cattlemen's Beef Association, as well as a rep of the Pork Producers. We learned that one's testimony time could be yielded to another from the Catllemen, as three guys stood up and yielded their time to Mike John who I believe was testifying for both the Cattlemen and MFA (Missouri Farmer's Association) in opposition to the bill. He said many things that weren't entirely true and then made a whopper of a statement saying that "those who are opposed to NAIS are either, environmental extremists, animal rights activists, or people who want to sell diseased animals."
After the hearing was finished, Senate bill 428 was still in its original and desirable form. Then, the darling Rep. Quinn, who became the handler of the Bill in the house upon it being assigned to his committee, changed the 4 page positive bill into a 96 page negative bill that would establish statewide pro CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations) zoning and also establish NAIS via statute along with many other less contentious things. This effectively morphed SB428 into an evil piece of legislation that now needed to be opposed instead of supported and the first rule of "careful with that legislation, honey" was learned. A bill may be great as introduced, then changed in committee before hearing, changed before being voted out of committee, then changed again on the floor before being perfected and voted upon, then changed again in the opposing house's committee, then changed again before being voted out of committee, then changed before leaving the floor and being perfected, then changed in conference committee. So backing a bill by it's number is a very, very dangerous thing to do. One may say "support XYZ bill as introduced", but watch what happens to it along the way, or you may be calling in support of something that does the exact opposite of it's original intent, or has had something else repugnant added to it along the way that would be worse than any possible good from the bill you were supporting.
On with the saga of SB428…..
Now the job of telling people to go against SB428 needed to be done. It still hadn't gotten out of committee, but if you like to track legislative history, you can see how the bill reads on the Missouri General Assembly website and how it read upon introduction as a comparison. Needless to say, people were a bit confused by the "We're for it"-"No, we're against it" dance.
Happily, this version of SB428 didn't make it out of committee, and was killed by time constraints. After the legislative session was out, Representative Quinn received the Farm Bureau Legislator of the Year Award ostensibly for his effective destruction of SB428,.However, we were left with trying to get an amendment slapped onto a different piece of ag legislation to protect the citizens of Missouri from regulation by the enactment of protective statute. (That's a mouthful, isn't it?) So Representative Dethrow introduced a smaller, less detailed and not as protective amendment to SB156, which had become an "omnibus ag bill", much to the chagrin of the senator who had introduced the original legislation. No one wants their legislation to get tangled up with the most controversial topics in the legislature, but it simply can't be helped in many cases.
After Rep Dethrow introduced this amendment, which passed on the House floor with a vote of 135 for and 10 against, we ran into another surprising facet of making sausage. We were called in to 'negotiate' on the verbiage with none other than Farm Bureau, the Cattlemen and MFA, all big lobbying groups at the Missouri Capitol and all in opposition to constraining NAIS in any way in the state of Missouri. We sat for a full day in the same room with these proponents of NAIS arguing about the word 'any', with the Department of Agriculture and the State veterinarian as well. We were told to come back the next day to continue to argue about the word 'any' and hopefully come to a conclusion. During a rather sleepless night away from home (again), I was struck by the realization that there was no point to this action at all. So in the morning, when we reconvened with all of those paid lobbyists and the salaried State employees, I said, " I see no reason to sit in a room discussing details with those who have been pushing for this program. The House and the Senate have done their job. The people have been represented, and you lose. If the shoe were on the other foot, you wouldn't agree to sit and argue with us after the vote had occurred. I will discuss particulars with the Governor's office, the Dept of Ag and the Attorney General's office, who are legitimate government bodies, but not with the groups who want this so they can make more money." They all left the room and we continued to argue about the word 'any' but now from separate rooms.
This went on all day until those in the other room on salary were done putting in their eight hours. The word 'any' still remained in its enigmatic form, and they were unhappy with their inability effect to change it after the vote.
Now the new vehicle for protective legislation against NAIS, SB156, had to go to conference committee. Conference committee is comprised of members of both the House and Senate and those members are appointed by the leaders of the respective houses and is convened when legislation regarding the same topic has gone through both houses with different language. Here, the ineffable Representative Quinn, again played the hand of Farm Bureau, whom we refer to as either the fourth arm of government in Missouri or the lobbying branch of the USDA, and put off two sessions of the Conference committee hearing. We, representing opponents of NAIS, were again sent into a room to discuss particulars and address verbiage concerns, but this time only with representatives of the Dept of Ag and the State vet. The governor's office and the Attorney Generals office had people present as well, and they approved of what we came up with. Finally, after we were not entirely happy with the compromise made, which would allow the Missouri Dept of Ag to register people and properties into NAIS for the purpose of adding value to their marketing, but otherwise constrained the Missouri Dept of Ag from implementing NAIS, the Department's Undersecretary, Matt Boatright, wanted us to allow the guy with one duck who wanted to go full on NAIS to be able to participate in this boondoggle of a federal program. We declined, and left about 11pm with the legislative session due to expire in three days.
The next day, the Conference Committee met and the 'compromise' bill with a clause added at the request of Quinn that would allow the Governor to overturn the bill if it affected commerce and was approved and voted out of committee with a 7-3 vote. Representative Quinn was the handler of SB156 and he signed off on it, saying he would bring it up on the floor where it needed to pass the House and then move on to pass the Senate, and be a finished piece of business. The last day came and the Senate was waiting to adjourn until after the House adjourned because they wanted to get this vehicle to constrain NAIS completed for the year.
Despite the ability to pull the bill from Rep Quinn's hands and bring SB156 to the floor, Speaker Jetton decided to leave it in Quinn's hands to show his support for his chair appointment. Representative Quinn met Ray Cunio, (a fellow NAIS opponent and Property Rights advocate extraordinaire), while getting a cup of coffee and told him, "Ray, you may as well go home because I am not bringing it up." And he didn't. The House adjourned, and then the Senate adjourned….So ends the saga of this particular foray into the legislative process with SB428 and SB156 (along with HB747, HB428, HB478 all against NAIS) and no resolution of the problem.
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Now we are in the midst of another legislative session, with a new bill that has legs, SB931, but it isn't as strongly restrictive against NAIS as is really necessary, and this bill has passed the Senate 28-3 and is likely to go into another committee headed up by yet another staunch supporter of the Farm Bureau…..And so the wheels of the sausage grinder turn.
© 2008 Doreen Hannes - All Rights Reserve