This post is not about the merits or lack of merit of SB622, the hate crimes lite bill. Instead, it is about how the committee vote was stolen to declare the bill passed.
A comparison between President Joe Biden and state Representative Carol Dalby (and likely some other leaders of the Arkansas House of Representatives) is unavoidable.
Joe Biden is trying to get his liberal legislation past the U.S. Senate by trying to get the Senate to ignore the long-standing filibuster rule in the Senate.
Meanwhile, state representative Carol Dalby (R-Texarkana), who is chair of the Arkansas House Judiciary Committee and a cosponsor of SB622, one upped Biden by not only ignoring a long-standing rule but also by ignoring the result of a voice vote so she could declare SB622 passed and immediately adjourning the meeting to avoid a roll call vote.
On Thursday, April 8 the House Judiciary Committee met to consider SB622, known by critics as the “hate crimes lite bill.” Chairperson Dalby called for the voice vote, which means the result is based on what the chair hears when she calls “for” and then “against.”
Based on the audio, clearly there were more committee members voting “no” than “yes.” But, Dalby declared the bill passed and immediately declared the meeting adjourned despite several legislators calling for a roll call vote under House rules. Dalby spoke so quickly to end the meeting it sounded like she was auditioning to become an auctioneer.
The clip is provided by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Dalby’s action doesn’t appear to be a spur of the moment thing. It appears to have been planned. There was no hesitation and she spoke as rapidly as possible to end the meeting.
The question is: Did she come up with this plan on her own or was she pushed into it by other House leaders?
Before the committee meeting it was obvious to all involved the bill would fail in committee if a roll call vote was taken, but if there was some way to get it out of committee and on to the House floor it might pass there. To get it to the House floor would require some shenanigans.
Perhaps the thinking was once there was a vote on the House floor everyone would forget the shenanigans in committee.
Several people have commented on how quickly the House staff stopped the broadcast of the meeting once Dalby declared adjournment. The quick blackout kept the public from hearing complaints by upset committee members. Did staff know in advance?
Why do we say House leaders knew the bill could not pass committee with a roll call vote?
The committee has 20 members. It takes 11 affirmative votes to pass a bill out of committee. Democrats oppose the bill because they want a harsher hate crimes bill. In the Senate, no Democrat voted for the bill. There are 9 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee which means if they voted “no” the bill could not pass unless all 11 Republicans voted “for” the bill. But, there are Republicans who are opposed to SB622 for a different reason. Some Republicans oppose SB622 and any other hate crimes bill because they see no evidence hate crimes laws accomplishing anything while leading to prosecutorial abuse in whether to prosecute something as a hate crime.
Republican Representative Brandt Smith (Jonesboro) was one of the few committee members who can be seen in the House video. He voted “no” and was one of the committee members who immediately demanded a roll call vote. You do not call for a roll call if your side won.
With Smith a “no” and the Democrats voting “no” there could have been no more than 10 votes “for” the bill, not enough to pass it if put to a roll call. While Smith can be seen voting “no” other Republican likely voted against the bill or simply did not vote.
Speaker Matthew Shepherd, also a cosponsor of SB622, defended Dalby. He claimed it sounded to him like the “yays” were louder. Is he kidding? Does he mean one of the few who voted “for” sounded louder than any of the rest, surely, he is not claiming it sounded like more yes votes.
We must not be the only ones who wonder if Dalby’s action was planned by House leaders. Apparently the Democrat-Gazette raised the issue because Shepherd said, “I didn’t ask for the bill to be handled in a particular way.”[i]
Voice votes have been problematic over the years, as evidenced by many voice votes being overturned by a roll call vote. Voice votes make it possible for unscrupulous committee chairs to steal the vote. Voice votes keep the voters in the dark and allows your legislator to kill a bill in committee without you ever knowing how your legislator voted.
- End the use of voice votes in both the Arkansas House of Representatives and Senate. Record every vote and post all votes on the legislature’s webpage where the public can see how their legislators voted.
In the Arkansas House of Representatives, committee chairs owe the Speaker of the House for their chairmanship. The Speaker appoints them all. This puts extra pressure on the chairs to conform to the wishes of the Speaker (and not just when the Speaker is a cosponsor of the bill). In the Senate, chairmanships are selected based on seniority in the majority party. The Senate system has worked well.
- End the Speaker’s hold over House chairs. Either adopt the Senate system of choosing chairs by seniority in the majority party or let each committee choose its own chair.
We know there are legislators who are tired of these shenanigans but changes will not happen unless you insist your legislator support the changes. Why? First, many legislators like voice votes because they can vote an issue up or down without any public record to hold them accountable. Second, as regards to ending the Speaker’s hold over chairs, most members of the House already owe the Speaker for a chairmanship, vice chairmanship, or membership on a special committee. This makes it hard to propose a change limiting the Speaker.
Tell your state legislators you are tired of these abuses and demand change. Tell them acting like Biden to finagle passage of legislation is still bad even if they are Republicans.