There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as Louisiana’s legislative Republicans showed on a controversial matter. But one of their own might employ the same to thwart them.
Tuesday, the House Insurance Committee had a light schedule of just two bills. One, SB 173 by Republican state Sen. Fred Mills, has generated much conflict. It regulates the state’s response in case the U.S Supreme Court declares unconstitutional part or all of the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards actually opposed it, setting off skirmishes that continued in Tuesday’s hearing where an administration representative softened that stance with the bill’s passage.
Those fireworks only set the stage for an unexpected conflagration. SB 212 by GOP state Sen. Conrad Appel would have created some temporary reporting requirements for insurers about commercial vehicles. It easily passed through the Senate. The room mostly had cleared and Republican state Rep. Thomas Carmody handled the bill and spoke about it.
Whereupon the committee’s vice chairman, GOP state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, offered an amendment that essentially read in the most current active version of HB 372 by Republican state Rep. Kirk Talbot, the panel’s chairman. That bill, as previously noted, would bring many statutes dealing with vehicle insurance in line with other states with much lower rates and has won widespread support among House Republicans.
Democrat state Rep. Chad Brown immediately asked about its germaneness, a question Talbot dismissed. Democrat state Rep. Edmond Jordan objected to the amendments, but all Republicans present except for state Rep. Mike Johnson favored it and all Democrats there opposed it except for state Rep. Cedric Glover. In the vote on the amended product, Johnson also voted affirmative.
HB 372 had been put the sword by a motley collection of trial lawyers from both parties on the Senate Judiciary A Committee. Folding it into SB 212 suddenly cuts them out of the deal and would send it directly to the Senate floor, where sentiment appears to favor HB 372.
That creates a situation very undesired by Edwards, a trial lawyer by profession who receives major backing from his kind. His allies’ resistance to it sets up a number of potential flashpoints to keep it from reaching his desk and thereby put him in the embarrassing situation of having to cast a veto.
The next will come during an ordinarily perfunctory step today. After a committee deals with bills, they encounter a “second reading” on the chamber floor where normally all amendments made in committee the chamber approves unanimously. For SB 212, at this point a Democrat will object, asking for a point of order from GOP House Speaker Taylor Barras as to whether the amendments are germane (which may come in form of questioning whether the bill should have had a substitute, which if invoked would have invalidated Senate approval).
Barras almost certainly will affirm germaneness which will bring the amendments to a vote. A member may object to his ruling, where a majority of those present could overturn that decision, but the chamber’s Republican majority (provided they disproportionately weren’t absent at the time of a vote) almost certainly would vote to sustain the ruling. The same would vote to put the amendments in on the way to a “third reading,” or bringing the bill at a later date to the floor.
Floor action should mirror this. Democrats should try to reverse the amendments, which should fail. Then, the bill will pass.
Proceeding on to the Senate, things will become really interesting. The bill will come back as a Senate bill with amendments, where the Senate must decide whether to accept those amendments, and it will have to hear it. Keep in mind that whereas Barras and a House majority should agree upon the amendment’s germaneness and want the bill passed, in the Senate GOP Pres. John Alario, an ally of Edwards, won’t want the bill to pass while a majority of senators likely do.
If so, then any Democrat motion to reject the House amendments likely would fail, leading to report acceptance and forcing Edwards to deal with it. Success with that would send the bill to conference, where Alario could appoint a hostile Senate portion of that committee (Appel as the author would be one member, but the other two would be opponents and two must approve of any conference report for the bill to continue in any form).
So, Democrats’ best strategy asks for their own point of order when the bill comes up about its germaneness. But the problem is Alario would have a far weaker rationale for declaring a lack of that, because he can’t rule on amendments as there aren’t any; at that point, the bill is the bill. To declare the bill inadmissible would be about as brazenly political and bad a ruling as the Senate ever has seen.
Nonetheless, he could bulldoze his way through and contrive a rationale to prevent a vote. But, as in the House, this can be appealed. Normally, this never happens because crossing the president can incur all sorts of penalties, such as getting kicked off committees.
However, these are not normal times. The session closes up shop in about two weeks, ending the four-year term of senators and the career of Alario, who faces term limits. Except for sabotaging bills in conference as in the example above, there’s little he can do to senators who defy him.
Thus, it would all come down to this: if, as expected, Alario would make such a ruling to cover for Edwards, would there be enough Republicans (and even a Democrat here and there) not vulnerable on prized legislative instruments to back an override, which takes a majority of the seated Senate or 20 members?
Don’t touch that dial.