If you’ve ever played chess, you know that an action taken to gain an advantage is called a gambit. Gambits exist in other fields of endeavor, many of which are not games, to include legislating. I’m going to acquaint you with some that I’ve seen. Many more exist. For the sake of convenience, I’ll give them names, but most of those names are just mine.
Dummy Bills — after a legislator officially submits a bill, the normal legislative process doesn’t make it available in committee until several legislative days have transpired. This can be a problem if you are even partway into the legislative session and have a new topic for a bill, and don’t want to attract attention.
Catfish Amendments — sometimes a legislator who opposes a bill succeeds in getting an amendment made to it that, while sounding innocuous, actually defeats the entire purpose.
Pull the Rug Out — this is a technique for defeating a bill in committee without exceeding the bounds of legislative courtesy. Legislators normally interact with a high degree of respect and decorum in any public venue. This is out of tradition, and out of the simple fact that if you cross another elected official publicly, you have made all of that person’s friends your enemies.
Emotional Testimony – you’ve seen this on TV, though more dramatically staged than the real thing. Have someone who has been affected by the problem your bill seeks to fix testify to the committee hearing the bill. This can be very powerful, and sometimes attracts outside media attention, which can create public pressure in your support. It’s also a very respectful way of acknowledging difficulties your constituents have faced, and may even be a little bit cathartic for them.
Yes, If – sometimes contentious bills can take a while to work through the committee process. Even if you are not a member of the committee a bill is in, and thus can’t try to amend it during a hearing, you can still have an impact on it. Let the author know you’re willing to support the bill by talking with friends on the committee, as well as with an eventual floor vote, as long as he or she will work with you on parts of the bill you may have problems with.
Same Bill, Both Chambers – you can increase your chances of getting a bill passed if you can persuade a friend in the Senate to submit your idea over there. That way, if it gets bogged down in committee on one side of the General Assembly, it might make it to passage through the other. Then you get more time to work on the measure, hopefully learning how to address concerns that held it up on one side.
Skewer from the Floor – usually, if a bill has made it to the House floor, the odds are that it will pass. Once in a while, though, a member will get up to speak in opposition to a bill, and expertly lay out a critical flaw that no one else had picked up on — and the bill goes down.
Pressure Cooker —sometimes a legislator is trying to reach an accommodation between two interest groups, but both sides have been intractable. If the issue or the participants are high profile enough, you can invoke the prestige of the House, and “invite” them both to come to the Capitol for a discussion. Many times such an effort does break the logjam, and a compromise is reached.
Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle, can be reached at 404-656-0152 or Doug@DougHolt.org.