What Happens in Committee . . . Doesn’t Count?

Traditionally legislative committees have been the place where legislators and lobbyists could quietly kill legislation without the public finding out how the legislators voted.

Often bills pass or fail in committee by a voice vote, which means as a group those for say “Aye” and then those opposed “No.” A voice vote means you can’t look at the record and see how your legislator voted. But on some important issues a legislator will request a roll call vote showing how each committee member voted and whether the member voted. BUT even when a roll call vote is requested the record is not readily available to the public. Unlike recorded votes on the floor of the House or Senate the committee vote does not appear in the bill’s history on the legislative website. In addition, the press rarely reports on who voted which way in committee.

When Conduit For Action published a roll call vote in 2017 one Representative was so incensed, she demanded to know how CFA got the information. Guess she thought it was supposed to be secret. Committee roll call votes are public information. To get the information you have to request a copy from legislative staff.

But her outrage over CFA daring to let you know how committee members voted, is nothing compared to the two-year tantrum of Senator Jim Hendren over CFA using important committee votes in scoring how well legislators matched with our goals of a lower tax burden, smaller government, more economic freedom, and government ethics. Apparently, the Senator thinks that if you kill a bill in the thirty-five member Senate your vote should be scored but if you killed the same bill in committee, where there are only eight members, a bad vote should not count against the legislator.

Under this odd notion the most important bill of the entire legislative session could be killed in Senate committee by four of the eight members voting “No,” voting “Present,” or not voting at all and the vote to kill the bill would not count against anyone.

What subject is the most important to you? Abortion? Gun Rights? Stopping sanctuary cities? Lowering the overall tax burden?  Now imagine that whatever bill you have selected passes in the House of Representatives but then the bill fails in Senate committee without it ever going to the full Senate. Under Senator Hendren’s notion you wouldn’t hold any Senators accountable for stopping the bill because it was only a committee vote and not a full Senate vote. Would you let Senators who stopped your bill off the hook because it was by a committee vote? OF COURSE NOT.

Since a committee is made up of only a fraction of the Senate would you score the committee vote as having less weight than if the bill had been killed by the full Senate.  OF COURSE NOT. YOU HAVE ALREADY SAID IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT BILL TO YOU.

The big lobbying interests have always closely monitored and scored committee votes.  It is just the public who has remained in the dark. Lobbyists will check with committee staff to double check their records on how committee members voted or request legislative staff to send a copy of the roll call vote to them. Legislators know the big lobbying interests do this. Legislators also know big lobbyists can choose to help them get campaign donations or to drum up a primary opponent against them.

At Conduit For Action we think you are more important than the big money lobbyists.  That is why we go to the extra effort to request a copy of important roll call votes in committee and why we use more important committee votes in our scoring.

This is extremely important to remember – Not all legislators want to hide their committee votes. Scoring committee votes is a way to acknowledge fiscally conservative legislators who stand firm for conservative values even in committee. As CFAcontinues to shine a light on voting records maybe fiscally conservative legislators will win more often and that is a win for Arkansans.

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