An informal agreement to keep business moving in the House on the last day of session went by the wayside for a time Wednesday over controversial and unexpected language in a 500-page implementer bill.
Republicans were incensed to find a small section of the general government implementer bill changed the effective date of a controversial bill permitting undocumented residents to apply for driver’s licenses. The bill, which passed both chambers late last month after hours of debate, had been scheduled to take effect in 2015. Language in the implementer appears to change that to next month.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said prior to discovery of the new language that he had an agreement with House Speaker Brendan Sharkey to keep debate on implementer bills to around an hour and a half. That changed abruptly, with Cafero saying someone had violated the spirit of the agreement.
“This is a pure snub-your-nose to the entire process. It is something that, in my 21 years, I have never seen. It is a substantial change to move it two years earlier,” he said.
Cafero said the short passage would have a substantial impact on the flow of business in the House over its last few hours of session. He said lawmakers had no idea what else was in the bill and would, “if we have to,” spend the rest of the day on the bonding bill the House was debating at that time.
“This day is not going to go well unless we can come in the next few hours to some rational agreements about implementing the budget — even though we voted against it — in an appropriate way and not using these vehicles as a ‘rat’ or an ‘aircraft carrier’ to make substantive policy changes,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said the change might have ramifications on the Senate’s last day as well. He said lawmakers in the upper chamber were combing over the bill and trying to get verification of exactly how that language would change the implementation of the drivers license bill. But he said last minute changes aren’t in the spirit of working together and justify slowing down the legislative process.
“The only leverage you have is shrinking the amount of time they have to all the things we have to do,” he said, adding that there are pieces of legislation that both parties want to see passed.
“But unfortunately, if they’re not going to let you in a room to see what they’re working on, if they’re not going to tell you they’re making signification to policy or bills that even just passed in the last two weeks, we need to slow the place down in order to have a conversation,” McKinney said.
By mid-afternoon sources said legislative leaders were planning to remove the controversial passage from the implementer bill. Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for House Democrats, said they did not know how the provision made it into the bill.
“As soon as we became aware of it we changed it back,” he said.