A Bill's Odyssey Into How Government ThinksFeb 15, 2008
Another Family Foundation priority bill, HB 1543, which would require doctors to report complications resulting from elective outpatient surgery, passed the House of Delegates last week by an 87-12 margin. The bill is patroned by Delegate Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico) and would require the Bureau of Vital Statistics to collect the data for study for those interested in health issues related to safety in such clinics and in certain procedures. The Department of Health keeps hundreds of such health-related statistics in a myriad of fields to monitor everything from the possibility of epidemics to risky procedures.It is yet another bill passed by the full House in large numbers that did not even make it out of sub-committee in recent years (such as HB 1318, the Surplus Taxpayer Relief Fund; and HB 121, the parental notification bill for minors seeking mental health treatment). However, the bill did not have a straight or easy path to final passage. After an emotional debate between Delegate Janis and committee member Delegate Lionell Spruill (D-77, Chesapeake) in the House Health, Welfare and Institutions sub-committee on Health, it passed with only Delegate Spruill's dissenting vote. (That was only part of the story: We had to "whip" the sub-committee – i.e., find members in other committees and get them there for the vote). It then cleared the full committee by an 18-4 vote, carrying a majority of the committee's Democrats. But there was a catch. The bill had a fiscal impact statement attached to it because, according the Department of Planning and Budget, it would "cost" the state money, and all such bills, regardless of policy area, must be approved by the Appropriations Committee. That committee, regardless of budget surplus or deficit, is known as a graveyard for new spending legislation, and this year the budget is facing a shortfall.
Making matters worse, the impact statement had absolutely NO concrete figures or facts, was full of assumptions and assertions, was based on the original draft of the bill and not was passed by HWI, and incredibly faulty logic. (It's funny how DPB never files impact statements on how the government's taxes and spending cost us taxpayers money. Read what we think of these so-called "impact statements.")
When Delegate Janis went before the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Health and Human Resources, with the "crossover" deadline looming, the committee decided to "pass by the bill for the day" because of conflicting testimony, even though it was not scheduled to meet again before crossover. However, it scheduled an extra meeting a few days later. Working with The Family Foundation, Delegate Janis was able to puncture holes all through the impact statement and the Department of Health's arguments that the bill would cost money, including costs for "new computers, printers, telephones and fax machines" – as if that equipment cannot serve dual purposes. At least we got a great insight into how bureaucrats think and work!
In another "only-in-government" situation, the full committee previously passed HB 760, patroned by Delegate Chuck Caputo (D-67, Chantilly), which would change the name of "mentally retarded" in Virginia code to "intellectually disabled," necessitating a $75,000 expenditure to the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation to change its signage, logos, stationery, etc. But the Department of Health said it would "absorb" those costs (meaning your tax dollars now will go to that instead of life-saving and good-health promotional work, which is its mission). If it could absorb that cost, certainly it could collate the statistics mandated in this bill. Also, in a suspicious sign of a double standard, The Family Foundation stumbled upon a Senate bill, SB 396, patroned by Senator John Edwards (D-21, Roanoke), that required the Health Department to collect cost information on numerous services and post them online – with no budget impact! We brought all this to Delegate Janis' attention and he used it in his argument before the reconvened sub-committee. It reported the bill unanimously to the full committee, which met the next day and, in turn, passed it by a 24-0 margin.
Commonsense does prevail occasionally. It now goes to the Senate Education and Health Committee.