Out of 448 bills in the 2014 hopper, South Dakota's legislators have proposed 17 bills that do nothing. No, I'm not talking about the time-wasting karaoke-session resolutions that got Rep. Spence Hawley so cross yesterday. I'm talking about bills that, as written, take no concrete action whatsoever.
Some policies take time to craft. Since South Dakota's legislators try to cram all their work into eight four-day weeks followed by one five-day week, and since they are distracted by resolutions and crazy ideas from wingnuts, they don't always finish researching, negotiating, and writing the first drafts of their serious policy proposals before the bill submission deadline in Week 4.
Our legislators dodge a tardy slip with what we call, in South Dakota parliamentary parlance, hoghouse vehicles, empty carcasses into which lawmakers plan to stuff their legislative sausage later... once they figure out the recipe.
The Legislative Research Council usefully tags and lists this session's 17 hoghouse vehicles:
|HB 1109||provide for the enhancement of economic development.||killed in House State Affairs 2/24|
|HB 1145||accommodate legislation on medical services.||passed House 2/25|
|HB 1146||accommodate legislation relating to education in South Dakota.||passed House 2/25|
|HB 1147||accommodate legislation on the state aid to education formula and to make an appropriation therefor.||tabled HSA 2/24|
|HB 1191||accommodate legislation relating to the alleviation of livestock losses as a result of the late autumn West River blizzard.||tabled House Approp 2/07|
|HB 1203||improve the financial practices of the State of South Dakota.||passed House 2/25|
|HB 1247||revise certain provisions for the economic development partnership fund.||tabled HSA 2/19|
|HB 1252||improve the work force development in South Dakota.||tabled HSA 2/19|
|HB 1256||increase opportunities and funding for school districts to apply for jobs for America's graduates programs and to make an appropriation therefor.||hoghoused House Ed 2/21; killed House Approp 2/24|
|SB 99||revise certain provisions regarding self-funded multiple employer trusts.||hoghoused Senate State Affairs 2/19; passed Senate 2/24|
|SB 107||accommodate legislation on the state aid to education formula and to make an appropriation therefor.||passed Senate 2/24|
|SB 108||accommodate legislation on medical services.||hoghoused SSA 2/21; passed Senate 2/25|
|SB 109||accommodate legislation on education in South Dakota.||tabled SSA 2/21|
|SB 110||require state employees to make certain payments or contributions for health insurance.||hoghoused SSA 2/24; tabled Senate 2/25|
|SB 141||make an appropriation to fund certain scholarship programs and to declare an emergency.||hoghoused SSA 2/21; passed Senate 2/25|
|SB 146||revise certain provisions regarding the closure of county and township roads due to high water.||withdrawn 2/19|
|SB 168||provide oversight and accountability to certain economic activities.||passed Senate 2/24|
Seven of these empty bills have been killed. Three have been fleshed out with specifics and passed out of their respective chambers; two were killed once legislators saw the first details.
Yet five hoghouse vehicles have passed out of their chamber of origin in their original empty form. Someone in the Legislative leadership has plans for medical services, education and state aid thereto, financial practices, and "certain economic activities," but after six and a half weeks, these elected officials haven't mustered the data, the consensus, or the guts to put details on paper where we all can see them.
Last year, one hoghouse vehicle, SB 235, carried forward a massive omnibus bill revamping South Dakota's economic development policies. Regardless of the merits and demerits of that bill (which became law), reporter Bob Mercer and I both complained that crafting such important legislation out of sight of the public isn't cool. Legislators, reporters, bloggers, and other interested citizens should all have time to review public policy proposals, seek relevant data, and rouse public activism for or against those proposals.
South Dakota's hoghouse procedure has some merit. Allowing legislators to wholly overhaul (someone in the barn is shouting, "Holy overalls!") bills allows for the possibility that some unexpected information or event might warrant a swift response from the Legislature after Week 4 of the session. Plus, it's just plain fun to say hoghouse! all winter.
But hoghouse vehicles excuse tardiness and shield secrets. Keep the hoghouse, but ban hoghouse vehicles. Forbid the posting of any bill whose text consists of nothing but a general goal statement. Require that by the Week 4 submission deadline, every bill must outline a specific policy action and/or a specific statute that it would change. Such a requirement might sharpen our legislators' focus, get them to beat back attempts by their nuttier colleagues to clog the caucus and committee meetings with fruitless ideological grandstanding bills, and flush more serious policy discussions out into the open, where we all can help.