Monday, February 6, 2012

USOE details huge list of 35 education related "Boxcar" bills

"Boxcar" bills are potential bills that are named and numbered by a certain deadline (Feb. 4 this year by the looks of it), but have no content publicly available besides that name and number. The actual text and effects of the bill remain secret until the legislator decides to make them available to the public. Once they are available to the public for 24 hours, they can be started in the bill process normally--being assigned to a committee and progressing through committee and floor votes in both houses of the legislature. OR...a bill can be passed "under suspension of the rules," thus skipping committee hearings with pesky questions from the public and rushing to the front of the line to be considered on the floor. for example, HB477, the GRAMA bill, controversially rushed from unveiling of text through two easy votes in the Senate and House to the governor's office in only a few days.

Bob Bernick wrote an excellent commentary on the subject at the end of November. At that time, 60% of the proposed legislation was still secret. On Feb. 4, as near as I can tell, about 200 House bills, resolutions, and rules changes dropped into the system along with over 110 Senate bills, concurrent resolutions, and joint resolutions. All but one or two of the House bills numbered from HB 330 to HB 510 read "2/4/2012 Bill Numbered by Title Without any Substance" as of late tonight, February 6. The Senate, which is about 1/3 the size of the House, reads the same for all but one or two bills from about SB 173 to SB 279, plus a bunch of the resolutions. The list of bills by number is here. You can check the Bill Status links on each bill, and see that designation on Feb. 4, 2012, even later when the text of the bill gets added.

Why would a transparency loving legislature maintain at least 30% of its proposed legislation secret two full weeks into the session? Bernick said in the article above that "sources inside the Legislature tell UtahPolicy that the percent of “protected” bills is increasing, as legislators learn, from experience and talking to colleagues, that one way to avoid unnecessary attention in this day of emails, texts, and other instant communications, is to keep what could end up as a controversial bill under wraps."

As Joe Pyrah commented about boxcar bills a couple of years ago when he was still a reporter: "They know DAMN well what will go into those bills."

I posted a list of ominous sounding Boxcar bills with commentary last year, and I am thankful the USOE blog beat me to it this year with a long list of education-related Boxcar bills with very uncontroversial sounding names such as: HB371 Tuition Reimbursement for Private Education — Rep. Keith Grover, HB375 Improving Student Academic Learning in Schools — Rep. Merlynn Newbold, SB67 Teacher Effectiveness and Outcomes Based Compensation — Sen. Stuart Adams, SB73 Extended School Calendar Incentives — Sen. Howard Stephenson, and SB223 Pledge of Allegiance Reinforcement Act — Sen. Aaron Osmond. (I've loved your rational tone on education so far Sen. Osmond...but really?!)

At least those boxcars are honest and descriptive. The vague bill titles are even scarier, like: HB331 School Board Election Provisions — Rep. Jim Nielson, HB392 Charter School Funding Revisions — Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, HB430 Education Program Funding Amendments — Rep. Bradley Last, SB175 School Grading Amendments — Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, SB178 Statewide Online Education Program Amendments — Sen. Howard Stephenson, and SB213 Charter School Enrollment — Sen. Howard Stephenson. they could possibly be minor technical alterations, but they are more likely crucial changes disguised in bland language. As I documented in my Boxcar bill post last year, Senator Stephenson especially has repeatedly sprung large changes in the waning days of the legislature.

Sign up for updates of status changes on any bills you want at the bottom of the webpage for each individual bill. Let others know what is happening. It's probably not good.

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