During legislative session, this team tracks instances of "gut-and-replace" bills, "Frankenstein" bills, and short-form bill abuses.
A lot of commotion emerged around short-form bills, during the 2014 legislative session. We're here to chime in on some of the questionable practices we've witnessed at the state legislature, and offer our comments on where short-form bills fit in the grand scheme of things.
Terms to know
Gut-and-replace: When the original contents of a bill have been removed and replaced with new contents on a different subject (fitting within the bill's title is not enough, because titles are usually very broad) or which reverse the intent of the original bill.
Frankenstein: When contents from one bill (which is usually dead) are inserted into an existing bill with unrelated content.
Short-form bills: empty bills that are used as a "placeholder" for the Legislature to be able to introduce a bill after the bill introduction cutoff deadline has passed. These are useful for legislators and the public when unexpected issues pop up during legislative session.
The original committee votes to put content into the bill, after which it goes to the floor for first reading and is assigned to the relevant subject matter committee(s), which must then hold a hearing(s).
Hearing notices that have a short-form bill scheduled will include a note similar to this:
The purpose of this decision making meeting is to insert substantive provisions into the following short form bill. A public hearing will be scheduled at a later date, at which point testimony will be accepted.
Like many things in the legislative process, short-form bills could be misused or abused. We at Common Cause Hawaii, along with our friends at the League of Women Voters of Hawaii, believe short-form bills are legitimate vehicles, but should follow certain guidelines:
1) Short-form bills that are newly populated with content must get a public hearing in both houses that allows testimony;
2) If a short-form bill has been minimally populated -- the new content added should not substantively change the original bill into something entirely different (Note: using the same title is not enough. The content must be germane to the bill's original intent);
Some short form bills say the purpose of this bill is to do "this and that", but don't explain how. Arguably, gut and replace applies if short form bills are amended to change their purpose. Some short form bills have a title but have no purpose other than to evade the self-deadline for bill introduction (again, used as a "placeholder"). In this case, gut and replace does not apply;
3) A short form bill should not be necessary when an existing piece of legislation is alive and can still be heard. It's uncommon, but the House Speaker and Senate President sometimes change committee referrals for bills that would otherwise die.
An example of how short-form bills can be misused can be found in Senator Thielen's blog post entitled "A Tale of Two Short Form Bills".
Civil Beat covered 2013's HB252, which was the first blatant "FrankenBill" of the 2013 Legislative Session.