As the Richmond Times-Dispatch recently reported and summarized, the Northam administration has introduced a comprehensive bill covering a wide range of transportation issues. The proposal is being carried in the House by S[eaker Eileen Fuller-Corn (HB 1414) and in the Senate by Sen. Saslaw of Fairfax (SB 890).
This bill (the introduced House and Senate bills are identical) covers subjects ranging from the use of cellphones while driving to a major reconfiguration of how transportation revenue is disbursed to a decrease in vehicle-registration fees to an increase in gas taxes. The scope of the topics covered in the bill’s 86 pages is mind-boggling.
It would seem that the bill would be in clear violation of the “one-object” rule of the Virginia Constitution: “No law shall embrace more than one object, which shall be expressed in its title.” To be fair, the bill does express in its title one object: transportation. That is comparable to saying that a bill expanding Medicaid and reforming foster care would have one object: social services. Nevertheless, the bill is safe from challenge on this score. In the House, the Speaker rules on whether a bill violates the “one object” rule, and I have no doubt she would rule in favor of her bill.
Omnibus bills such as these sometimes serve a legitimate function. Some policy issues have various components that are closely related or linked. A change in one component can have ramifications, intended or unintended, on other components. By bundling all the components in one bill, it is easier to coordinate all the changes among the affected components.
Omnibus bills can have other, less legitimate, purposes, or, at least, effects. (I am not saying whether these effects were part of the motivation of the administration in deciding how to draft the bill.) First, lots of smaller, secondary issues can be hidden in these big bills. Technically, they are not hidden because they are set out, either as stricken language or in italics. But, when there are so many issues or topics addressed , it can be easy to overlook some.
A second effect, or advantage, depending on your perspective, is that it is harder to target a specific issue for opposition when dealing with big bills. If the bill were broken into several stand-alone bills, opponents of some issues could focus on those bills without having to deal with some of the other issues, which they may support. It is true that amendments could be proposed to delete certain portions of the omnibus bill, but it is somewhat cumbersome to draw such amendments; it is always easier to focus on a bill as a whole. Also, amendments may have the unintended consequence of negatively affecting other sections of the omnibus bill. Finally, people who have some concerns with the major components may concentrate their efforts on those parts and not have or take time for the other parts or feel they should not risk political capital on those other, minor aspects.
In summary, the secondary components of an omnibus bill ride along under the cover and protection of the major components. They also enjoy, if only indirectly, any general support for the bulk of the bill.
HB 1414 is not so tightly connected that it could not have been easily broken into several stand-alone bills. After I finish dissecting it, I will report on the major pieces, except I will leave the fuel tax provisions to Steve Haner because he is much more knowledgeable in that area than I am. However, I won’t be reporting on all the provisions because the readers of this blog would probably quickly get bored with it. Perhaps that was the administration’s intention.There are currently no comments highlighted.