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Effect of bill sleight of hand only to cause embarrassment

Daydreaming Louisiana representatives suffered political embarrassment Monday afternoon when one of their colleagues put one over on them for a pyrrhic victory.

Of some controversy has been Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to accept money from the federal spending bill if the state would change its laws to expand the reach and definition of unemployment insurance. Democrats made noises about trying to pass legislation to force him to do so, but had those bills bottled up in committee – until now, when one sailed straight out of the House courtesy of many inattentive legislators who have argued in the past they needed substantial pay increases because they sacrificed so much for their legislative jobs.

State Rep. Avon Honey’s HB 841 seemed innocuous enough when it came out of the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee he heads, dealing with workers’ compensation issues. But on the floor without any opponents realizing it, without opposition he amended onto it the substance of the bills that would force Jindal’s hand, and then got all 98 other members present to pass the bill. Only after did chastened opponents, mostly Republicans, figure this out and express indignation.

Honey, not known as a mover and shaker in the House, did slightly violate protocol in not bringing up the matter at all in his committee, but now only a major protocol violation can prevent the bill from causing a lot of extra work. A member of the voting majority – practically any member – could ask for bill reconsideration so the amendment could be undone and then it could be passed again to head over to the Senate, but reconsideration traditionally is considered the province of the author and is seldom used and just in the case of defeated bills. If there is no willingness to undertake this essentially unprecedented move, the Senate will have to strip the amendment, pass the bill, then send it back to the House which could concur.

In a way, the matter is self-defeating for Honey because the majority that opposes the sentiment of the amendment could choose to defeat it on return regardless of whether it is stripped. In fact, it might be a strategy that shamed opponents might consider to save face.

Caught napping as they were makes them look like either or both of they were not doing their jobs and/or supported those sentiments. For those whose constituents are not dead set against the expansion of welfare the amendment would provide, their Senate confederates could strip the provision, and then they could vote not to concur, making flowery speeches about how they were trying to help the less fortunate, etc. while making sure there are enough votes for concurrence. It could be a way to work against bad public policy but politically look like all those things the emotive, as opposed to thinking, voters look for: caring, compassionate, ad naseum, and make them look less like they were asleep at the switch.

The bill in its present form has no chance to become law, and the only long-term impact that may result of this incident is in a few years some opponents to the reelection of some of the surprised presumed detractors of the amendment will remind voters of the lack of quality of such an incumbent to fail to do their jobs to this extent. And the legislative hijinks continue.

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