Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Hey, Big Daddy,

Why do some pieces of legislation seem like they don’t really do anything?

— Puzzled in Petrolia

Don’t kid yourself. There’s a reason why every bill is introduced. Like that old sourpuss Ecclesiastes says, everything under heaven has a purpose. Something like that.

The purpose of every bill isn’t to be signed into law or solve some burning issue like Uncle Frank (Lanterman), Alan Short and Nicky Petris did with the state hospitals. Or Ralph Brown, God love him, on open meetings. My civil rights stuff.

Sometimes a bill’s only purpose is to be introduced.

Let’s say back in the district there’s some issue where the community is divided. Big hitters on both sides. Armed camps. The whole schmear. Best strategy, of course, is to do nothing and not pick a side. When that’s not practical, introducing legislation can help.

If the legislation supports one side’s preferred resolution of the issue, the worst case is that side becomes kinda grumpy when the bill simply gathers dust on file until sine die comes around. A smart pol gets rid of some of that potential grumpiness by talking to the players on that side of the issue about “strong opposition by the other side,” “the need to reach a better consensus before moving forward” or some other kiss-off horseshit.

Best case is that the introduction of the bill draws the two camps together because they’re both scared that somehow they’re gonna get screwed the worst. Fueled by the greatest motivator of all-time, a compromise gets reached and our legislator is hailed as the new Lincoln. Remember: That’s best case.

Sometimes it takes more to show you care than just introducing a bill — particularly when the media is involved. Putting a bill across doesn’t cut it with parasites whose stock-in-trade is crowning winners and kicking losers. For those bums, more drama and conflict is needed. That means at least one, maybe two committee hearings.

(Former Assemblyman and Congressman Jerry) Waldie had some bill designed to make kissy-face with a sports writer at one of the hometown papers. The Livermore Something or other. I dunno. Anyway, Waldie’s bill had to do with hunting frogs with slingshots. Some ranger cited the writer and his kid because frogs could only be killed with big, fork-like spears called gigs.

Waldie knew he needed to get at least one hearing – and one more bit of free publicity – to prove he cared. The bill got immediately sent to interim study without any debate but damned if Waldie didn’t turn it into a pretty funny book – Fairplay for Frogs. I remember a good line in there where Waldie describes how the committee dealt with his silly-ass bill:

“There was little discernible reaction to this forward-looking piece of legislation – in part, I suspect, because of its direct approach to problem-solving, a disconcerting change from the usual legislative efforts.”

Other bills are placeholders. Buckets to pour things into later in the session. A deal comes together on scope of practice for optometrists and a bill is needed to stick it into. If you’ve got legislation doing something to the Business and Professions Code – presto — you’re in the mix.

Some guys used to introduce a bill in each of the seven or eight juice ice codes: Insurance, B&P, Health, Corporations, Rev. & Tax. Just to make sure they were in the mix if there was mixing to be done.

Then you always need around 20 bills for all the junk implementing the budget.

There are bills that are introduced to get someone’s attention. Let’s say there’s a lot of heavy breathing on how to tax companies doing business in California but headquartered out of state. That’s a very big deal. So the players are scouting out the situation, counting up who is with them. At the same time, they want to know who they need to watch out for and who needs “special attention.”

A good way to move your resume to the top of the stack is to introduce a bill on the subject – especially one that screws the side that appears to have the most resources and the most interest in winning.

Then there are what (former Assemblyman and longtime lobbyist John) Quimby called “press release” bills. The old bastard introduced more than a few bills himself that were put across only to show he cared about some group or another.

That’s where the name comes from: The bills ain’t nothing but glorified press releases on everything from pets to vets. Roulette, tax offsets cigarettes. Public debt.

No one expects press release bills to pass but the authors pimp the hell out of it when such “reforms” are introduced and beat the hell out of the wicked sinners who oppose or kill it. Those in the other party anyway.

Like Waldie’s frog gigging thing, you want to move a press release bill along as far as possible to maximize the free publicity. When the bill dies, as most press release bills inevitably do, make sure it dies hard in a flurry of photos, sound bites and newspaper articles.

“You put (the bill) in and hope the paper gets your name right,” Quimby used to say. He oughta know. Quimby had a bill in ’69 to make Assembly committee hearings public. He knew without even asking that I would never let that get past me.

There was some other deal under (then Gov. Ronald) Reagan where Cap Weinberger (head of Reagan’s Department of Finance) opposed a Quimby bill allowing taxpayers to deduct utility taxes from their state nut.

Quimby said Reagan liked all kinds of other tax breaks but didn’t like his because it cost the state $150,000, which was a lot back then but still a whole lot less than some of the giveaways Reagan was pushing. Quimby had a great line:

“Someone once said that consistency was the virtue of little minds. If that’s true, then the governor’s Department of Finance must be loaded with great minds.”

Think about it.

Next question.

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