Thursday, March 03, 2005

Legislators Should Read First, Vote Later

Mr. Toast's inaugural post:

I was in the neighborhood last Thursday... I decided to spend the day watching our state's senators perform the "sausage-making" of government. It was quite interesting, an eye-opener that I highly recommend. I could make several comments on what I observed, but I want to focus on a particular point...
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Blogger Mr. Toast said...

I was in the neighborhood last Thursday... I decided to spend the day watching our state's senators perform the "sausage-making" of government. It was quite nteresting. It's an eye-opener that I highly recommend. I could make several comments on what I observed, but I want to focus on a particular point.

Before Thursday's session, I would've maintained that it was imperative for our state legislators to actually read the bills on which they vote. But after what I witnessed last week, I'm beginning to wonder if I should be happy when the sponsors themselves read their own bills before introducing them to the legislature!

Allow me to explain the event which had this impact upon me.

Sometime after lunch, HB 1528 was introduced on the floor of the senate (it had already passed in the house). The short title of the bill was read: "An Act to permit the
Director of Finance and Administration, as Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, to enter into a compact to share driver's license information with other states; and for other purposes." I'm assuming the sponsor of the bill on the senate side was Senator Laverty (D-District 2), because he was given the opportunity to introduce and speak on behalf of the bill. He half-heartedly explained that, from what he understood of the bill, the legislation would enable reciprocity for driver's licenses to the extent that the state of Arkansas recognized the driver's license of another given state. This, he claimed, would enable someone from Arkansas who moved to another state to obtain a driver's license from the new state without having to re-take a driver's test.

After he spoke, the President of the Senate opened the floor for questions. Obviously perplexed, Senator Bookout commented that he believed that such reciprocity for driver's licenses already existed. Senator Laverty responded that he believed that this bill made more extensive the information shared to other states, and he waxed nostalgic about a time when he had to re-take a driver's test in Florida in the 1970's, implying a lack of reciprocity in his case. Laverty then went on to jest that he passed the Florida test the first time versus having to take the Arkansas test three times before scoring well enough to get his license here. After the senators present laughed it up, Senator Hill was granted permission to comment, and he stated that he was almost certain that reciprocity for driver's licenses already existed. Hill wanted to know what the bill being discussed did that previous legislation pertaining to reciprocity didn't. At this point, all pretense of understanding the gist of HB1528 melted away. Senator Laverty replied that he would be perfectly fine with "pulling the bill" until they'd all had a chance to go over it. With a wave of his hand and a little muttering, Senator Hill indicated that no such measure was required, and they were ready for a vote. After a tally, the bill passed 25-0 (8 not voting, 2 not present).

So the question that begs to be asked is, "just what was HB 1528 anyway?" Interestingly enough, and not implied by its title or subtitle, the bill enables the State of Arkansas to exchange driver's information (driving records and violations, including ticket and violation information) with other states, and with Canada and Mexico at the whim of the Director of Finance and Administration, as the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles. You can read the bill for yourself here-it's rather short: would we need to include Canada in this bill? Why Mexico? Should the state of Arkansas lend any credence in what Mexico or Canada say about drivers from their countries who come to Arkansas? Do Arkansas counties routinely grant driver's licenses to people from these countries without requiring them to re-test anywhere here in America? Do they plan to do so in the future? I can only assume that the answer to at least one of the last two questions is "yes." And perhaps there is a good reason Mexico and Canada need to know the driving records and violations history of Arkansas drivers. Now that HB 1528 will probably be signed by the governor, time is sure to tell.

Now, I realize that these bills go through committees where they're discussed in a little more detail, but does that give everyone else the green light to vote "yes" on nearly everything that comes before the full senate? It should be clear how imperative it is for us to monitor the bills that are nearing a vote in
congress, because if we don't catch the flies in the ointment (or those in the sausage), who will?

HB1528 bill could very well be innocuous or even beneficial. But it could well be harmful to the citizens of Arkansas. For good or ill, I'm wagering that most of the other senators did not know what was in HB 1528 before they voted. Maybe if more of our legislators had taken the time to read this particular bill before voting, some good questions would've been asked and answered. Maybe if sponsors of legislation-- especially those who run bills handed to them by lobbyists, understood what they were running, we'd have a lot fewer mysterious laws on our books.

7:59 PM, March 03, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Canada and Mexico? This is a globalist type bill slipping through the cracks. It makes me think THAT was what the bill was about- not about state-to-state reciprocity (which already exists).

Good catch Toast, and welcome aboard.

8:18 PM, March 03, 2005  
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3:58 PM, March 17, 2007  

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