Friday, December 4, 2015

What happended at the Metro Council meeting of 12-1-15? New rules, and praise for U.N Declaration of Human Rights

To get your own copy of the agenda and council staff analysis and my commentary on the agenda follow this link:What's on the Council Agenda for Dec. 1? Not much. Church of Scientology praised.
Council meetings are much more interesting if you know what the Council is voting on. Still, they can be fairly boring and that is why I normally watch them in double speed and only slow down for the good parts.

There were a bunch of mayoral appointees to boards and commissions on the agenda and none are rejected.One was deferred due to a scheduling conflict and the appointee being unable to appear before the committee and the rest were approved without any dissenting votes.

At time stamp 11:23 to 1:15:32 in the video, the Council takes up the adoption of new rules for the Council. Each new Council readopts rules or adopts new rules for how they will operate for the next four years. The big change in these rules is rule 24, a rule that will strengthen the Council committee system by giving the committee the power to kill legislation. Unlike the committee system in the U.S. Congress or the State legislature, a Metro Council committee has not had the authority to kill legislation. A bill could get a negative vote in committee and still be considered by the full Council. There have been instances where the Council passed bills that got a majority negative vote from the Committee. Also, there has been a problem with some council members almost never attending the committee to which they were assigned.

On the one hand, I think the committee system should be strengthened. On the other hand, I am somewhat concerned that this rule change gives an awfully lot of authority to the Vice Mayor. Since the Vice Mayor appoints all committee chairmen and makes all committee appointments, giving more power to the committee's really puts a lot more power in the hands of the vice mayor.

The new rule would not allow absolute defeat of  legislation by a committee, however, but would allow the committee to have the bill deferred indefinitely. Should a committee move to have a bill deferred indefinitely, there is a way the sponsor could still bring the bill to the floor. First the sponsor of the bill could have the bill be on the next agenda to determine if a majority of those present and voting would vote to allow the bill to be heard. Only the sponsor of the bill and the chairman of the committee that voted for the indefinite deferral would  be allowed to speak to the subject of the consideration of the bill. If the sponsor  could get a majority to the members of the Council present and voting to vote to hear the bill, then the bill could be presented at the next council meeting. That is not high a bar for overriding the committee. If a lot of members abstained and only 12 voted in favor of hearing the bill and 11 opposed, the Council could hear the bill at the next council meeting. Also, while such discussion would supposedly be limited to the topic of whether or not the bill could be heard, at least the sponsor would get to explain his bill . It would be hard to separate discussion of the merits of the bill from the merits of being allowed to hear the bill. So, the sponsor may achieve his purpose of bringing attention to an issue even if the bill is not voted upon. 

This same rule would also establish that committees must have a quorum, which is defined as  at least half of the member assigned to that committee being present. In my view, council members should be expected to attend the committee meetings, and if they do not they are not doing their job. In the past, some members have had lousy committee attendance records.

Council member Gilmore makes the point that a bill may be assigned to more than one committee and that some committees have as few as five members and that even if two other committees approved the bill, one committee could have it deferred indefinitely.  She attempts to have rule 24 amended out entirely and keep the existing rule 24. That fails. She then attempts to require that instead of only one committee being able to defer a piece of legislation indefinitely, that a majority of the committees to which the bill is referred vote for indefinite deferral in order the bill to be indefinitely deferred. That also fails

I think this change in rule 24 is an improvement over what the Council has had and if it doesn't work the council can always change it. A different rule  is changed that allows the council to change theie rules if only 21 favor amending the rules instead of 27 members. I think that was a positive change.

I am pleased that so much open and full debate went into the adoption of the rules. I cannot recall the council ever giving so much attention to the adoption of their rules but the rules under which the council operates can be very important. On balance, I think the new rules are an improvement.To read the adopted rules of the council, follow this link.

Bills on public hearing: I find nothing of much interest and there are not any really controversial rezoning bills that generate a lot of public interest on the agenda. Most bills on public hearing  are zoning bills that would interest no one except nearby neighbors and I don't pay much attention to rezoning bills unless they are really controversial are have broader impact than just one neighborhood, so you may want to watch the meeting and read the agenda for yourself. Public hearings start at about time stamp 1:16 and end at 2:26:10.

Resolutions on the Consent Agenda: There are only four resolutions on this agenda and all are on the consent agenda.  If  a resolution on consent passes the committee to which it is assigned unanimously, it stays on consent and all resolutions are passed by a single vote. Any member of the body may ask to have his vote recorded or have an item moved off of consent and heard separately. None of these four are controversial.

All bills on First Reading pass as is customary. There are a few late bills, which to be added to the agenda require an explanation and suspension of the rules. This is an unusually high number apparently caused by some change in procedures at the planning commission. So many bills should not be filed "late." What ever the problem is, needs to be corrected. A late filing should be a rare occurrence.

All bills on Second Reading pass. None of them are controversial.

Bills on Third Reading pass and none of them are of much interest.

There is one memorializing resolution recognizing Human Rights Day. If it had not been for one abstention in the Rules Committee this would have been on the Consent Agenda with other resolutions and the passage of this would have been unanimous. This resolution honors the U. N. Declaration of Human Rights. While I would join Councilman Bedne in saying "human rights are a good thing in this world," I would not support this resolution. The problem with the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights is that it considers both entitlements and liberties to be "rights." A "right" to free speech is a limitation on government; it is a basic right which is innate or something with which people are "endowed by their creator."

A "right" to health care or free education or paid holidays is an entitlement that forces someone else to provide a benefit for you.  The difference between these two kinds of "rights" is clear to me, but I really don't think liberals understand the difference. If you have it and someone else wants it, liberals reason that those without it have a "right" to it.

The resolution passes on a voice vote which means it did not pass unanimously. It means by audible voices in the room, the chairman heard more "yes" and "no." I know it is difficult to take a stand against Human Rights, but I wish a council member would have taken to the Council floor and explained what is wrong with mixing liberties and entitlements and calling them both "rights." That did not occur, but at least the council member who abstained in committee kept this from passing unanimously. A voice vote is a weak endorsement.

To read other news reports on the Council meeting see the following:
Metro Council committees may get more power
Metro Council votes to give committees more power
Metro Council approves settlement, approves new rule package

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