Friday, March 03, 2006

How a Bill Becomes a Law

Most of us remember School House Rock's "I'm Just a Bill," but we here at FITS figured it was past time somebody actually had the balls (or the gall, we don't know which) to write the real, unvarnished story of "How a Bill Becomes a Law."

So here, in all its irreverent simplicity and occasional brusqueness, is what really goes down under the dome when our cute little fella (above) decides he wants to become a law.

STEP #1 - A narrow special interest identifies a point of competitive advantage for itself that will enable it to crush its opposition in one fell swoop, and decides it wants the law on its side when it does so.

STEP #2 - Without regard for right or wrong, fair or unfair, competitive or non-competitive, our narrow special interest goes out and hires an army of well-heeled lobbyists, paying them thousands of dollars and promising them thousands more in bonuses if they are ultimately successful in advancing its ideas.

STEP #3 - Our narrow special interest starts stroking checks to State Legislators' Campaign Committees and any Political Action Committees (PAC's) that are run by legislative leaders. All checks are for the maximum amount that the law will allow.

STEP #4 - Legal staff over at the narrow special interest's home office drafts the precise language they want enacted into law. Legal staff gives it to a lobbyist, who gives it to one of the Legislators who's gotten a check.

STEP #5 - After legislative staff copies and pastes the text from the lobbyist, the legislator files the bill, which is co-sponsored by all of the other Legislators who've also been cut a check.

STEP #6 - With the narrow special interest picking up the tabs in a circuitous, technically-legal fashion, Legislators get wined, dined and - how does the rest of that go?

STEP #7 - The bill sails through subcommittee, full committee and the floor in both the House of Representatives and the State Senate. Usually, anybody who tries to oppose it is threatened with opposition the next time they run, loss of their committee positions and every once in awhile (like in Operation Lost Trust), the votes themselves are actually bought and paid for.

STEP #8 - The bill goes to the governor. Most of the time, the governors just sign the bill because they've been cut a check, too, and don't want to piss off the narrow special interest. Every once in awhile, though, a governor comes along who doesn't play by the rules, and he vetoes the narrow special interest's bill.

STEP #9 - The narrow special interest kicks it into overdrive, working its lobbyists to generate the necessary two-thirds majorities in both chambers to override the veto. Legislators who either don't care or don't know what the bill is about end up talking to the people who care the most about the bill, usually agreeing to override in exchange for support on some of their own bills. "Horse-trading," it's called. Sometimes, legislators even "take a walk," manufacturing reasons why they cannot cast a potentially-deciding vote on the override.

STEP #10 - The veto is overriden and the bill becomes law, irrespective of whether it actually helps or hurts the majority of the citizens which it will impact or whether it violates other laws that are already on the books. Lobbyists get paid their thousands of dollars in bonuses, hold nice parties to pat themselves on the back and the narrow special interest moves forward with its plan to vanquish its enemies with the new law on its side.

So ... next time you hear "I'm just a bill," you'll know what really went on.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now Will-that is the BEST post you have ever written. But you have also forgotten to mention that sometimes these lobbyists or "governmental affairs consultants" have ties to law enforcement agencies and private investigators. They use these ties to conduct "surveilance" on members of the House and Senate who could obstruct the bill and use said surveilance to blackmail these members into submission.

4:50 PM

Blogger Mike Reino said...

If you could put all that to music, ABC might put out a new version - think of the royalties!! However, the shock and outrage of all the 30-somethings learning that they've been lied to all their lives might hurt your chances. Personally, I was a Conjunction Junction and 3,6,9 Fan. Please don't tell us those were lies also.....

7:49 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forget another important step in the process - an eight ball of coke and $500 from Ron Cobb and you get whatever you want. Anyone remember Dr. Paul Derrick?

12:25 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conjunction Junction, what's your function????

That was greatstuff!!!

1:52 PM

Blogger Earl Capps said...

i'm just a bill sounds more like "check please", with the appropriate person picking up the tab ... and then sticking us with the bill later on.

Lost Trust was a disgrace for this state, and sometimes, i wonder if we're not sliding back down into the pit.

too many people in Columbia weren't around when this went down, or have decided that toeing the line just isn't as cool (or as necessary) as it used to be.

2:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Earl - Amen from the back row brother! The billboard bill and subsequent override of Sanford's worthy veto smacks of how special interests are really in control of our Statehouse. At least the lawmakers these days aren't as cheap as $500 and a rail of coke!

10:56 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

or three shirts and two ties. that is how Tom Limehouse left the legislature during lost trust and we got Annette Young.

12:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Stuff...humorous and actually with some truths. Of course contingent lobbying is illegal, read the ethics act. So if promises are made, it really couldn't be in bonus format. And you really need to get over the fact that Sanford gets a majority of his vetoes overidden...it's the process, like it or not. Maybe that is why W has yet to issue a veto, who knows. It sure as hell ain't cause Congress is passing such great public policy.

9:01 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home