An Excuse I Never Want to Hear Again

Congratulations to the Senate Judiciary Committee for moving quickly on H.225, the “bupe bill,” decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the opioid that’s used as an alternative to more dangerous drugs. Friday morning’s 5-0 vote was not a surprise; last Friday the committee took a straw poll and came up with the same unanimous count. The bill now heads to the full Senate, where it’s certain to win approval by a landslide.

It was only a couple weeks ago that Senate leadership was signaling a slow play on H.225. The bill had been consigned to the Rules Committee, a place where inconvenient bills go to die. Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint issued a statement that threw some cold water on the bill:

We did not want to vote it out of Rules until we had a sense of how long testimony and due diligence would take. …The Chairs want to be certain that this bill will [address the opioid crisis].

Well, they got convinced in a hurry, and after very little testimony. Friday’s action came a couple days after the Senate Finance Committee’s forced march to craft a universal broadband bill — something that would usually take weeks, and would often be kicked down to the following year’s session. But legislative leadership was dead set on enacting a broadband bill this year, and now they’re on track to accomplish that ambitious task.

The broadband action followed Judiciary’s approval of H.128, the ban on the “gay panic” defense. That saga ended quickly and quietly, but only after committee members repeatedly made fools of themselves in trying to shoot down the bill.

So they’ve proven, over and over again, that they can meet an imminent deadline when properly motivated. Any seemingly insurmountable obstacle can be overcome. And now, you know what I never want to hear again? Leadership saying they can’t possibly act on an issue because there just isn’t enough time.

I’ve often said that legislative leaders can always accomplish something if they want to or have to, and they can always block something if they don’t want it to move. The last couple of weeks has proven that beyond any dispute.

This was supposed to be a difficult session. Lawmakers were faced with an entirely remote session, all the issues raised by the Covid pandemic, the big task of deciding how to spend federal relief money, and a raft of other high-priority issues. Now, with a couple weeks left till adjournment, they’re on the verge of a ridiculously productive session.

Full congratulations to leadership for navigating these choppy seas. (More on that in an upcoming post.) But here’s the thing about accomplishing a difficult task: It resets the bar. They’ve proven they can do a great deal of work in a hurry. Next year, if they go back to endless hearings and repeated redrafts of bills and moaning about the unscalable mountain of work in front of them, it’ll be a little harder to take it at face value.

It will, in fact, reinforce my skepticism about Statehouse excuse-making. I don’t want to hear it any more.

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