The dark art of ‘radiator capping’

The operative phrase at the Statehouse Tuesday was “radiator capping.”

This is a term lawmakers use to describe the process of completely rewriting a bill on the House or Senate floor. Think in terms of a car. In amending the bill, the car is rebuilt, bumper to bumper, leaving only the original radiator cap intact.

On Tuesday afternoon, the House hoisted Senate Bill 1133 up on the jack and went to work. By the time the House’s pit crew was finished, a school security bill that passed the Senate on a 33-1 vote was transformed into a new version of gun rights legislation.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls

The move caught supporters of the original SB 1133 unarmed and unprepared. Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, had spent Tuesday working on language to fine-tune SB 1133 — trying to refine a public records exemption in the bill, and addressing the role of police departments in crafting school safety plan.

“We took a risk in sending it to the amending order to try to get something done this year that all parties could agree to,” Horman told Idaho Education News’ Clark Corbin after the dustup on the floor.

(More Statehouse jargon for you: When legislators try to rewrite a bill to compromise its original intent, that is referred to as a “hostile amendment.”)

Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian

Afterwards, Sen. Marv Hagedorn lamented the move in an interview with Melissa Davlin of the Times-News in Twin Falls. Later, the sponsor of SB 1133, took to Facebook to plead his case, and draw an unsavory analogy to Capitol Hill gamesmanship.

“Our Idaho kids, their parents and the educational staff all lost today with this action. It saddens me when the Idaho Legislature acts like the U.S. Congress we have worked so hard to not become.”

Turns out the Legislature was just getting started.

A little while later, the Senate Education Committee looked under the hood of a 2-month-old collective bargaining bill and saw another ideal candidate for radiator capping.

They sent Senate Bill 1040 to the Senate floor for amendments. The goal is to rewrite the bill to mirror Senate Bill 1148, which would have allowed school boards to cut teacher pay or reduce school contract days. SB 1148 died on the Senate floor Friday on a 14-19 vote, but there’s a caveat. In another episode of legislative shenanigans, a couple of senators apparently voted against SB 1148 to signal their opposition to the 2013-14 public schools budget proposal.

Why was SB 1040 chosen for radiator capping? Well, there are rules. A bill can be amended, but the amendments are supposed to remain close to the bill’s original intent. One could not, say, amend a bill designating a state amphibian and morph it into a health exchange bill.

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa

In short, the Senate is swapping out one collective bargaining bill, the long-forgotten SB 1040, and turning it into a near-clone of SB 1148. And the House could only rewrite SB 1133 after Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, the House’s presiding official for the amending process, deemed that there was sufficient “nexus” between school safety issues and gun rights.

Yes, it was an intriguing Tuesday afternoon around the Statehouse.

And here’s a little closing irony.

“Radiator capping” is a time-honored Statehouse art in the arena of tax law. That’s because all tax bills start in the House, which means that the best way for a senator to write tax legislation is co-opt a House-passed bill that arrives in the Senate.

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene

On Tuesday, the Senate dealt with two House-backed tax bills, with no mischief. They voted 35-0 to send the House-passed personal property tax relief bill to Gov. Butch Otter. And in the Local Government and Taxation Committee, senators simply voted to defeat a bill (sponsored by Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene) to extend income tax credits to donors who support private school scholarship programs.

No frills. No radiator capping.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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