On Friday morning, Representative Conlon and Representative Stone joined the House General Committee to discuss the Education Committee’s approach on the bill. He shared that while the intent of S.103 is appropriate, they believe it “must go hand-in-hand with state-level resources and more effort upstream” to address harassment behavior. That work will happen next year.
Conlon was there, primarily, to understand what direction the Committee wanted to go. Representative Elder asked them if they were “going to pull the language out, is that the upshot?” Conlon deferred, saying that was somewhat up to this Committee.
Elder followed with a question about “possible tension” between the expansion of the Public Accommodations Act (PAA) in this bill and what the legislature did in H.483. Conlon didn’t think this introduced a new conflict because the State Board of Education rules already require compliance with the PAA for schools eligible to receive public tuition dollars.
Representative Parsons asked what the Education Committee was planning to do with the bill. Conlon looked to Chairman Stevens and noted that it was really a question for them. They could hold onto the bill, they could advance it without the education sections, or they could have the bill re-committed to this committee, which would reset it to the Senate version.
Parsons was unconvinced this was the correct process and questioned why the bill would come back to the General and Housing Committee after they had already completed their work on it. He preferred that the Education Committee hold onto the bill and finish their work on it.
Representative Bartley weighed in, saying that the rules around re-committal of a bill seemed to be reserved for cases where new information or major issues with a bill come to light, and not for simple timing issues. The current situation didn’t seem to rise to this level. She also preferred to let the Education Committee do their work.
Betsy Ann Wrask (House Clerk) joined the Committee to discuss the process surrounding their discussion. She explained that the re-committing process is essentially a “do over” and the bill resets to the original version that arrived in that committee. While it is not common, she noted (addressing Bartley’s concerns) that because it requires a vote of the House to re-commit a bill, it’s really at the discretion of the whole body whether or not this process is appropriate in any given instance.
Chair Stevens opened their afternoon meeting by acknowledging that the conversation around S.103 has become “emotional,” with lots of conversations happening. The Education Committee (and the Senate) have objected to the education provisions in the bill, asking for more time to work on them. They could amend the bill and pass it back to this Committee, but they are now running out of time for the requisite procedural steps to happen. This is particularly true if the House sends an amended version back to the Senate; they would likely run out of time before the legislature is set to adjourn next week.
The bill includes provisions on employment, equal pay, redefinition of “severe and pervasive” standard for harassment, housing, as well as a “do not darken my door” provision. The Committee felt that there was some urgency to pass at least the language the Senate sent over this year. The Senate version of the bill focused on employment, harassment definition, and housing protections.
The second option the Committee has is to have the House “recommit” the bill to this Committee, which would “re-clock” the bill back to the Senate version. Once they have reset, they could concur with the Senate version of the bill, which would then send it to the Governor without the “risky” back and forth between the House and Senate; or they could make minor changes that the Senate is more likely to concur with.
Some members of the Committee would like to “re-add” language to the employment and housing sections to apply to all protected classes. However, because it’s a change, it would introduce risk of the whole bill not passing if it can’t make the procedural deadlines.
With that, Stevens brought it back around to say that they were “at a place where we decide which portions of S.103 are still important to us.” He noted that all the options are imperfect.
Representative Bartley was first to speak, saying that she favored the “foundations of this bill” and would still like to support it. She had a “small amendment” related to the “severe and pervasive” standard and she would like time for a discussion. Stevens confirmed he would like to hear it if there is time (and if amendments make sense).
Bor Yang (Executive Director, Human Rights Commission) was in the room and noted that it’s “not unusual” for civil rights bills to pass like this (in a piecemeal fashion). It sends a powerful message, she argued, and “youth have heard it.”
Representative Elder hoped to get as many of the pieces possible, with or without education pieces, into law this year. He framed the issue as the “status quo pushing back” and he is not surprised. He still supported the entire bill as the Committee originally passed it.
Representative Chestnut-Tangerman was sympathetic to the current plight and noted that he has seen legislation be divided successfully before. He is willing to “take the win” if possible.
Representative Howard preferred the education pieces continue forward. She noted that she was struggling to know what to do and was discouraged.
Representative Parsons quipped that if the Education Committee doesn’t like the language, they “could do their damned job” and remove those sections. He saw the other two options as “political.”
Stevens noted that, while he thought a floor conversation would be helpful, not everyone saw it that way. There was concern that a floor debate over this would “possibly damage” some of the “concepts” in the bill.
Representative Burrows believed that the education provisions were “not going anywhere right now,” and wanted to avoid stalling the entire bill.
There was no consensus in the Committee about which route to take. Stevens offered that they had until noon on Monday to make a decision. Legislative Counsel reminded them that if they amend on Monday, they would need rules suspensions in both chambers in order to make a Thursday adjournment. If they voted to concur after the bill is re-committed, then a House floor vote sends it directly to the Governor.
NOTE: The actual parliamentary procedure is the Education Committee requests to be relieved of the bill; it is then re-committed to the initial committee of jurisdiction (House General).
The Committee will return to this on Monday.