It's Wednesday. That means there's a 50/50 chance my social calendar is filled with an evening of Metro Council deliberation. Tonight's meeting actually looks like it will be a fairly quick one and without much of the typical histrionics that seem to accompany these meetings of late.
Many of the items on the agenda fit into the “Any objections? Seeing none that item is approved” category. Today's items include: the typical contract bid and change order stuff that comes out of the Capital Improvements Committee, a number of Ryan Airport related items from the Finance & Executive Committee, a few previously deferred condemnations, several pass through grants intended to help with Baton Rouge's horrifying HIV/AIDS problem, a grant from the Capital Area United Way to fund income tax return preparation through the Office of Social Services, a few settlements, a couple of appointments, another attempt to publicly fund summer youth programs, and a waiver to a recently enacted travel restriction. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn't that much. Very few of the items are likely to generate much discussion. (Note: The items being introduced for the Council meeting in two weeks almost guarantee a return of the three act drama with intermissions that we have come to know and love).
Since there isn't much to talk about concerning tonight's meeting, I thought I'd provide a little primer on how the Metro Council actually works... and I mean “works” in the sense of the process, not necessarily a reflection on whether the Council is functional or not. I had a nice conversation with a reader last night (Nice being that I now know I actually have at least one reader. Hi Jill!) and thought it would be a good idea to walk people through the proposal process, particularly since the most recent Baton Rouge CityStats report indicates a majority (55%) of Baton Rougeans feel ordinary citizens have little to no influence on city-parish government leaders (P.S. CityStats is a really great report, you should read it).
Many of the readers of this blog will likely remember the old Schoolhouse Rocks! cartoon short called “I'm Just a Bill” (and if you missed that gem, click the link). It was a great, very simple cartoon that explained how laws are made at the Federal level. One of the reasons Schoolhouse Rocks! made the “I'm Just A Bill” cartoon is that Federal law making can be pretty confusing (lots of committees, two different chambers, etc.). The Metro Council isn't quite so bad. One of the main reasons is that the Metro Council is a unicameral legislative body, meaning that it is a single chamber. This is pretty typical at the local level, but our federal and state legislative bodies are almost entirely bicameral (Nebraska is weird), meaning there are two chambers of the legislature, usually a House of Representatives and Senate. The advantage (maybe sometimes a disadvantage) of a unicameral body like the Metro Council is that laws can be passed fairly expeditiously since the proposals don't have to go back and forth between multiple chambers until concurrence is reached. As I have little talent for drawing, cartoonery (yes I made that up), or music, I'm just going to spell out the Metro Council process here.
1) Someone comes up with a great idea™.
2) The great idea™ becomes a proposal that is almost always introduced during a council meeting. The introduction is nothing more than the Council formally announcing to the public that it intends to discuss the issue at a future Council meeting and that the public is welcome to comment on the item. The item is not discussed during the meeting in which it is introduced to the public.
3) Depending on the nature of the proposal, it may then go to one of several committees. The committees have the option to recommend, not recommend, or make no recommendation on the item. This has no bearing whatsoever on the final vote of the Council, but it does indicate that someone other than the Council discussed the item at some length.
4) At the meeting designated in the introduction, the Council holds a public hearing on the proposal, allowing the public to weigh in on the proposal.
5) Following the public hearing, the Council discusses the item. During this period, the item can be amended, deferred, tabled, or [insert legislative sounding term here]. Usually, the item will be brought up for a vote, at which point the Council passes or defeats the proposal.
6) If the proposal is passed, it is sent to the Mayor-President for concurrence. Unlike executive officers at the State and Federal level, our Mayor-President's veto power is pretty limited, with a laundry list of proposal categories where the veto does not apply. Generally speaking, the proposal becomes a law after step 5 in most cases.
Hopefully that helps dispel some of the confusion surrounding the workings of the Metro Council. I'll work on dispelling a little more of that confusion next week.