Legislation by Walking Around

Legislation by Walking Around

150 150 Jim Murphy

Last week we addressed the committee process and this week we look at what happens at the next step, when we convene in the House floor. Anybody observing the House members when we convene on the floor will see lots of movement. Representatives don’t simply sit at their desk and vote. We’re working and this is a critical time for each of us. Some folks think we see each other all the time but it is really only on the floor that we have this opportunity. And we make use of it.

All 150 members are there so this is the time to track down members who aren’t on your committee, hallway or the like. At best, you might have as many as 25 other members your committee. That barely scratches the surface.

Each day before I ahead to the floor, I make a detailed “to do’ list that has nothing to do with the day’s calendar (the list of bills up for voting). I will have a list of chairman to see to ask that my bill(s) gets a hearing. If they have reached that stage, I will track down committee members to ask for their support so it can pass out of the committee. Or I could be working another committee to set my bill for floor debate and a vote.

Since these same members are also walking around doing the same for their bills, it can be a challenge to track folks down. I will call their office, ask folks if they have been seen, or even stake out the restroom, depending on how urgent things are.

Today, I had to track down the Governor’s legislative director to get help passing a bill restricting eminent domain (HB1062) and my staff got him to come to the floor so I could keep working. Then I tracked down the author of another bill that could achieve my goal if amended, got the governor to pass off on the change, and then we corralled the committee chairman to let him know our plans so he’d be up to speed.

All of this occurred during the debate on legislation that was being considered. We have to be multi taskers but when the debate gets interesting, we all sit up and pay attention. It is absolutely true that the House debates change member’s positions on issues and it is a very dynamic process. If I ask the right questions, a weak bill will not pass. Conversely, if I explain my bill well, and do a good job answering questions, I can pass a bill that has controversy or significant opposition.

We also keep the clerks busy, filing bills in the adjacent office, adding our names as joint authors or co-authors to bills we support, and drafting amendments to the bills being considered. Today I secured the joint authorship of two very respected members on education issues –Democrat Alma Allen and Republican Rob Eissler. They signed onto HB1268, my bill to get more students in to college and save their families money. Again, more walking around.

We can be very productive at our desks which have a computer that lets us read the bills, review amendments (we had 25 on one bill today), and read research reports on an internal website. And we have the internet if we need additional information. Our desk phone is handy and I have used it to call experts (including my doctor and insurance agent) during debate to get their opinion on what is proposed.

I have also used time during slow periods on the floor to ask more senior members about the complexities of a bill we heard in committee or have them explain the history on an issue. I have found these brief conversations to be very instructive and great way to get to know my peers. They are always willing to help but only when asked.

If you visit our website to watch the floor debate and don’t see me at my desk, you’ll now know what I am doing to get our legislative goals accomplished. And when you watch, you will start to see much more work going on than what is taking place at the two microphones.