Assessing Washington State legislative debates: A look at the Climate Change leadership debate

Connecting to the House of Representative debates on Climate change leadership in Olympia, Washington State, during the wee hours of the night, could be very fascinating. While the average citizen attempts to connect to the legislators by watching their debates on TVW, more ardent believers call for transcripts on debate(s) before the house. Which ever way you get your legislative deliberations or fix, you are not very far from the reality of what goes on in the halls of power. Some of the debates you hear are so flabbergasting that you wonder why on earth a legislator advances a bill or proposed an amendment that seems very far in content and spirit of the actual bill. One of such experience was my incursion into listening to debates on several amendments to ESSB 5560, Clean Energy Initiative as late as 11:06 (Pacific Standard Time - PST), on April 16, 2009.

During the debates that led to the full house consideration of the bill, amendments were raised by legislators that seem, at best slightly related to the initial bill, and at worst, far from the spirit and content of the initial bill at first or second reading. The three amendments raised during the night’s debate included amendments 759, 729 and 715. While only one of these three amendments was approved, results of rejection of the remaining two by voice voting remained puzzling. One fails to appreciate the fact that not all the three proposed amendments went through the necessary litmus test of approval or rejection, in terms of voting. As feverish as the debates were, with comments like: “ we are all looking for energy efficiency and energy cleanliness, but we should rather be considering item as the menace caused by small engine pollutions/polluters”; “there is need to be flexible when considering pollution activities of residents of rural areas as against those in urban settings”; When talking about climate change, we need to fix the problem on the ground rather studying data”; We must be leaders rather than followers when it comes to climate change”; “If we have in place good forest management practices, we will be able cut down on the carbon dioxide pollution”; and Forest management issues impact the rate of forest fires, vis-à-vis carbon monoxide poisoning of the air. One would have appreciated the rejection or acceptance of any of the amendment by the same voting style. Voice voting as a way of determining consensus on an amendment or complete bill, is not the same as a roll call. The resemblance of a thing is not the thing itself, so goes the saying.

While due parliamentary procedure was followed during the debates of each amendment, the same cannot be offered on the voting style for acceptance or rejection of the amendment(s) to the bill. The speaker should have attempted to equalize the criteria for voting for all three amendments. The legislators themselves may have required it, or in some circumstances, should have weighed the support or dissension from the amendment by evaluating the parliamentary procedure used to articulate voting on the bill, hence subsequent rejection or amendment to the bill. As we assess the parliamentary process for evaluating the recommendations on the climate change initiative, one is apt to believe that the use of voice voting rather than roll call for consideration of the amendment(s), actually abridged the parliamentary process and jeopardize the credibility of the results of the voting. For now, I will like to believe that this is a problem of fatigue, an exception not the rule: the debate was being held at night, about 11:06 PM, when all souls and body were tired out. Sufficient unto the day, time to rest, so says the Psalmist.
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