March 21, 2006

Battle of the bills

It’s late in the session, and anxiety is the disorder of the day as laboring lawmakers make a final push to deliver their bills. And it’s not just the rank and file who are nervous. Late last week, House Speaker Jody Richards toted a tattered tally as he petitioned fellow reps to support a measure allowing police to stop drivers for not wearing seat belts.

Nothing gives legislators more satisfaction than to pass bills that save lives. Conversely, nothing frustrates them more than to see live-saving laws fail. The primary enforcement bill originally stalled in the House when Gov. Fletcher was in the hospital, unable to lobby for the few crucial votes it lacked for passage.

Crusades to save lives are among the most personal, private and poignant public policy initiatives. Fletcher is expected to sign a graduated driver’s license bill sponsored for the past several sessions by Tom Burch, D-Buechel, whose 17-year-old granddaughter died in a 1999 auto accident. Burch believes the enhanced training, supervision and restrictions mandated by the bill will spare many young lives and worlds of grief.

This also is the stretch of the session when lawmakers urge action on doomed bills (to shame their slayers) or fast-track measures (to praise their saviors). Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, last week made an impassioned plea for the Senate to take up a House-approved crackdown on bullying in schools. But the sponsorship of Scorsone, inveterate gadfly-pariah to the GOP leadership, is a liability for any bill. It’s no secret that Senate leadership considers the anti-bullying bill gay-friendly, and thus hostile to the Christian conservatives the Republicans continue to court.

The Senate will more likely grant a different manifesto by a different Senate Democrat. On Monday, Joey Pendleton pleaded to fast-track House Bill 334, which requires children under 16 to wear helmets while riding ATVs. Rep. Kathy Stein’s perennial child booster seat bill is expected to fail because of her perennial enmity with Williams.