By Dan Walters
Published: Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Once upon a time, the favored method of sneaking something through the Legislature was the so-called “conference committee.”
Ostensibly, a conference committee of members from both houses would reconcile differences between competing versions of legislation.
In practice, an entirely new bill, one that had never seen the light of day, would be signed by four of a conference committee’s six members, without a meeting, and rushed to the floors of both houses for final votes.
Dubbed “low-balling,” this sneaky practice became so widespread that some legislators rebelled and rules were adopted to require conference committee reports to be in print for several days before any action.
Suddenly, the number of conference committees dropped by about 99 percent. But low-ball artists – legislators and lobbyists who specialize in subterfuge – were not deterred.
They simply shifted to another vehicle – stripping the contents out of a bill in legislative limbo, filling the shell with an entirely new bill and jamming it through both houses, sometimes in a matter of minutes.
Originally dubbed “hijacking,” the technique later acquired another, rather coarse moniker – “gut-and-amend.”
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