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Lawmakers increasingly use strike-everything strategy to resurrect dead bills

An increasing percentage of bills introduced in the House and Senate are labeled technical corrections, which some lawmakers and political observers say are being abused and making it more difficult for people to track the legislative process.

The introduction of technical corrections has risen steadily since 2001, when only 39 such bills surfaced in the regular session.

In some cases, technical corrections are introduced to make minor changes in previously passed legislation. But they increasingly are used as placeholders for bills lawmakers might want to offer later in the session. They commonly are vehicles for “strike-everything’’ provisions, when a bill is stripped of its language and replaced with completely new legislation.

In 2001, striker vehicles accounted for just 3.2 percent of all bills introduced at the Capitol, excluding memorials and resolutions.  In 2011, 18.4 percent — or nearly one in every five bills — introduced in the regular session was a technical correction, as lawmakers introduced 248 striker vehicles.

In 2012, lawmakers proposed 333 strikers and name-changing amendments.

For people outside the Capitol, legislation can be difficult to track as bills seem to die, only to come back as a strike-everything amendment on an unrelated bill.

“Strikers are probably the most controversial,” said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. “They’re the ones that usually cause the most division at the Legislature. Strikers hide legislation from the public and from the rest of the members. They pop up as strikers with very little notice to the public and little time to debate it in the Legislature.”

Senators and representatives have come close to 2011’s record high this year.  They’ve introduced 198 technical corrections out of 1,145 bills — 17.3 percent, the second highest percentage in the past decade.

While only 23 strikers and name-changing amendments have been used so far, the time for strikers to start flying in comes later in the session, when seemingly dead bills are resurrected and attached to unrelated measures.

“It has caused those concerned with lawmaking to believe any issue can be resurrected at anytime, anywhere by anyone,” said Stan Barnes, a lobbyist and former Republican lawmaker in the Arizona Senate. “And that’s not necessarily a good thing.”

Favoring the professionals

It wasn’t always this way, noted Barnes. Technical corrections were once reserved for leadership, and other lawmakers were discouraged from introducing them, he said.

“Once upon a time, no one had technical corrections for purposes of later use as a vehicle except leadership, the (House) speaker or the (Senate) president. That evolved to certain other key members of the majority having vehicle bills introduced as tech corrections,” Barnes said. “It has blossomed now. Everybody’s got one. It’s almost like, if you don’t have a technical correction vehicle bill, then you’re not playing the game right.”

Deadlines in place for the introduction and hearing of bills are meant to keep the legislative process moving along at a steady pace and to ensure that all bills are given a proper vetting in the House and Senate, said Kevin DeMenna, a lobbyist and former chief of staff in the Senate.

Technical corrections make it difficult for the general public and anyone trying to follow the Legislature closely, he said.

“It takes the process underground,” DeMenna said. “Technical corrections are simply bills that didn’t make the deadline… It begs the question of why have these deadlines and limits at all. It’s something that favors the professionals.”

Getting around the deadline is as simple as making a quick phone call early in the session.

“It’s real easy. You call up legislative counsel and say, ‘Can you give me three technical corrections?’ and they’ll have them on my desk in 20 minutes,” said Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. “The deadline has become somewhat moot in the sense that we can strike bills.”

Something always happens

Other lawmakers say there’s nothing sinister about the number of technical corrections they introduce. Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria, said in addition to leadership, committee chairs will often introduce a slew of technical corrections in case last-second issues pop up in the session.

Murphy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, introduced 11 technical corrections this session. Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, has 13 technical corrections.

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, chair of the Senate Commerce, Energy and Military Committee, said he introduced 10 technical corrections when his secretary reminded him to. The number of technical corrections was simply an arbitrary number, he said.

“Something always happens that pop ups in the news that people want to address,” Murphy said.

And there are occasions when a strike-everything provision makes a bill easier to read and understand, as is often the case with the budget, Murphy said. Rather than pass a bill littered with complicated and confusing amendments, lawmakers can rewrite it from scratch.

But Gallardo said the use of technical corrections often hides lawmakers’ true intentions from the public and the scrutiny of the legislative process

“Vehicle bills are to be used for the budget, for special circumstances,” Gallardo said. “Unfortunately you’re seeing members who do not want to show what legislation they’re working on.”

“There’s a question of fairness to the general public,” Barnes said. “There’s also a question of the gross circumvention of the legislative process and the resulting policy that comes from that.”

Lawmakers may need to consider a rules change in order to scale back the rampant use of the technical correction, Mesnard said.

“If you allow a member to introduce bills when they want to — keep committee hearings and schedules — but allow members to introduce bills whenever they want to, the later they introduce them the less likely it is they’ll make it through,” Mesnard said. “Then you don’t have to have a bajillion technical corrections, you can just introduce a bill when you have the language for it.”

 

Strike-everything impacts range from ceremonial to significant

As vehicle bills, technical corrections are frequently used for strike-everything amendments, often after bill introduction deadlines have passed. The amendments vary from the ceremonial to measures that drastically alter state law.

n In 2013, a strike everything amendment was added to SB1139, a technical correction to unordered merchandise laws. Far from dealing with unordered merchandise, the bill established the state Day of the Cowboy, Arizona’s own homage to cowboy and cowgirl heritage.

n In 2012, a tech correction dealing with unemployment insurance was used as a vehicle for a bill prohibiting state and county officials from adopting any of the tenets of the Rio Declaration, an environmental decree adopted by the United Nations in 1992. There was even language in the bill alluding to the United Nations’ allegiance to “numerous independent, shadow organizations to surreptitiously implement this agenda around the world.” That language was later softened with another amendment.

Though the bill passed the Senate in 2012, it never got a vote on the House floor, and has resurfaced this year as SB1403, sponsored by Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West.

n Republicans spent years passing bills to make it easier for people to carry concealed weapons, only time and time again to watch then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, veto them. After Republican Jan Brewer became governor in 2009, a striker amendment was added in late March 2010 to a technical correction having to deal with children. It was changed to allow anyone over the age of 21 to carry a concealed deadly weapon without a permit. Sen. Russell Pearce’s bill also stiffened penalties for those who commit crimes while carrying a concealed weapon, and the striker bill passed both chambers before it was signed into law by Brewer in 2010.

— Ben Giles

Technical corrections
Year Bills* Tech corrections % that are tech corrections
2013 **1,145 198 17.3
2012 1,395 198 14.2
2011 1,350 248 18.4
2010 1,233 166 13.5
2009 1,133 149 13.2
2008 1,380 123 8.9
2007 1,434 129 9
2006 1,453 131 9
2005 1,315 155 11.8
2004 1,127 101 9
2003 908 82 9
2002 1,182 59 5
2001 1,221 39 3.2
2000 1,280 56 4.4

 

* Excludes memorials and resolutions.
** As of bill introduction deadlines.
— Source: LOLA

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