This is the end
The End Game is upon us.
As the regular session of the 2013 Legislature stumbles to a close, here’s a guide to the final stretch.
There’s nothing special about a Special Session. While a special session may be needed for the Legislature to complete its work, the goal is always to finish on time and avoid one, or two. (See 2003 for the most painful session closing of recent times.) Legislative leaders make it clear to members that bills either live or die in a regular session, so don’t count on “overtime” in a special session to get the job done.
The “I Need This Bill” Whine: Lower tier legislators make their personal legislative priorities known to leaders so they can return victorious to their district. When there was “pork,” good soldiers were rewarded with a “one-shot” appropriation for their project of choice. Since the recession, there hasn’t been any late money to fight over, making the money committee chairmen less popular in the End Game. Long gone is the famous Moose Shake, a mournful shake of the head “no” by Ways and Means Chairman Morse “Moose” Arberry, demonstrated whenever approached by a wheedling legislator in the final days of a session, accompanied by the phrase: “There’s no dough.”
Instead of monetary rewards, there has been a trend of moving bills that really don’t do anything except give a legislator a “win.” This is accomplished by taking everything controversial out of the bill, perhaps codifying what everyone knows is already current practice, thus allowing the legislator to proclaim victory.
You can also count on lobbyists to do everything in their power to get what they need, even if it’s a stupid borderline-illegal strategy dreamed up at the bar. Witness the mining lobbyists’ recent attempt to sell Assembly leadership on the idea of letting SJR 15 die in exchange for a voluntary $50 million cash payment from the industry.
“It’s a Legematic”: Certain “nothing” bills are kept alive, mostly through the well-known trick of sending them to a money committee under the guise of a fiscal note, because they’re in the right chapter of the statutes for a Legematic. The bill will be completely gutted and new language inserted that has nothing to do with the original intent. The new bill is now a Legematic. This move is seen less often these days since the departure of the Legematic Queen, Assemblywoman Chris Giunchiliani.
“Is this legislative time or real time?”: During the End Game, legislative leaders are super busy while the rank and file has plenty of time to stew and feel taken for granted. Unless they have a key bill to work on, there is really little to do except feel ignored and annoyed by the tedious “hurry up and wait” process, often late into the night and through the weekend. People are exhausted and tired of Carson City and each other. Some legislators hole up in their office and sleep during the down time. Others cross the street and drink. Someone always gets sick and has to be taken to the hospital.
Despite leadership attempts to keep dirty laundry in the caucus room, hostilities tend to seep out, usually via a strategic whisper to a favored reporter. In the Assembly, there are far too many members with grievances to track down every leak. It’s just “part of the process,” another favored phrase used to explain the End Game to new members.
There will be meltdowns, public and private, and a surprise bill or two in the waning hours along with lots of vows of “I’m never coming back.” The fact is, most will. The drama, the attention, the moments of joy when a key issue like marriage equality passes are addicting.
Until the next End Game begins.