A Lesson in Legislative Process…Superficial or Real Transparency?

The team at Stop Common Core in Michigan has been critical of the legislative process related to repealing and replacing common core.  As a result, we’ve taken quite a bit of heat from lawmakers and others who are in turn critical of our “tactics.” They assert that we are trying to “micromanage” the process or dictate the actions of lawmakers.   Neither is true, we’re simply expecting transparency in the process that has enabled too many other states to rebrand the standards instead of truly repealing them.

Governor Snyder is a proponent of common core and a strong influence on the legislative process.  The pressure behind-the-scenes to get a bill “the governor will sign” is intense and could lead to a rebrand.  Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s education record as part of the Snyder administration often conflicts with Stop Common Core in Michigan as well. But Calley’s recent statement on legislative transparency correctly identifies why we objected so vehemently to the process by which Repealing and Replacing Common Core in Michigan was being handled by the Senate last year and why we remain determined to keep this year’s process open and transparent.   Calley said,

“You can have a bill that passes, and literally minutes before final passage, there is an amendment that can change a lot of things in a bill. The general public doesn’t have an opportunity to see, consider, call and give an opinion on it,”

Last minute amendments are a problem since interested citizens do not have time to react. However, amendments must be voted on individually, so a record of who proposed the amendment and how legislators vote does become part of the permanent record which citizens can consider during the election process.

A more insidious process which Calley did not mention is the “substitute bill” or “sub” which is even less transparent than amendments.

Here is how the sub process works:  A bill is proposed by a legislator and published for citizen consideration. Then leadership changes the bill in a secret process, creating a substitute bill. Changes can range from cosmetic considerations to major policy adjustments to a total replacement with an entirely different topic!

No one knows who proposes which changes to the sub bill. The discussion and debate driving the changes are completely behind-the-scenes. It is likely not all representatives are privy to the conversations driving the sub. Citizens are not included in the process, though we suspect some lobbyists may be involved. The only public record is the vote on the entire sub.

Similar to the amendment process identified by Cally, a “sub” can be proposed and voted on before most have had the time to read or comment on it.

“Transparency is a guard of bad things happening, but it is also a way for our people to gain more confidence in some of the decisions being made, how they are being made and why they are being made,” Calley said.

Changes to the legislative amendment process merely skims the surface of transparency. To gain the confidence and respect of grassroots, major changes to the substitute process would also be required.

Michigan Legislative leaders have the power to be transparent right now with HB 4192 to Repeal and Replace Common Core, Will they?