We all want to believe that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” This along with other adages like “familiarity breeds contempt, he can’t see the forest for the trees or don’t wear out your welcome” warn us about the vagaries of emotional distance. Having been absent from the House off and on for a while due to medical difficulties at home, I came to session last Tuesday a little uncertain of how I would react. Would I feel relief, confusion, despair, or would I slide back into routine? Had the lotus flowers worn off while I was away?
As I settled into my desk in the back of the chamber, I punched the “yes” vote button to record my presence on the two new voting boards up front. The new boards may be more technologically advanced but they lack the old time basketball scoreboard gaiety of the old boards. Maybe it’s the lack of real light bulbs.
The new boards also raise a minor philosophical question about when a vote is actually cast. Is my vote cast when I press the vote button or when I release it? Like removing a finger from a chess piece after an uncertain move, my vote doesn’t light up on the new boards until I release the vote button. On the old boards, it lit when I pressed the button. For us cold war children, it begs the question: are the nukes launched when the red button is pressed or released? Should I care? Major Kong (aka Slim Pickens) didn’t as he rodeod The Bomb at the end of Dr. Strangelove so I might be overthinking the question.
On Wednesday, as the Speaker moved through the day’s calendar, I read through the bills that were still active before the House. I marked the ones that I felt might be troublesome and settled in to listen to the debate.
Before long, H3487 cropped up on the uncontested bill section of the calendar. This section contains bills fresh out of committee and allows members to request debate on the bill if there are significant questions. If enough members request debate then the bill is moved to the contested section of the calendar. H3487 expands the “Do Not Resuscitate” laws to allow parents to issue or revoke DNR’s for their children. Current law does not allow DNR’s for children under 18.
Medical ethics legislation usually comes through the Judiciary Committee and members hear about it long before it shows up on the calendar. H3487 came through the Medical Affairs Committee. Before I could determine the full ramifications of the bill and request debate, the vote had been called. At that point all I could do was vote no. I was the only one and the bill passed 107 to 1.
With very little discussion, the House overwhelmingly approved a bill that puts government, parents, EMS personnel, school medical staff and the general public in the middle of making a life or death decision concerning a terminally ill child. More debate was needed to vet this bill properly and though it pains me to say it, I hope the Senate pays more attention.
Another medical ethics bill came up shortly thereafter on the contested part of the calendar. H3548 passed out of Judiciary Committee and prohibits physicians from causing the death of an unborn child through a so-called “dismemberment” abortion unless the mother’s life is at risk. In simpler terms, the unborn child must be deceased before she can be dismembered during removal from her mother’s body.
This bill seemed pretty simple to me. We do not draw and quarter condemned prisoners as a form of capital punishment; to do so would be a cruel and unusual punishment and would be unconstitutional. Why should we allow the unborn to experience the type of death that we refuse to inflict upon our worst murderers? Even the prostitute whose baby was stolen and appealed to Solomon for justice recoiled in horror at his suggestion that her baby be cut in half.
Surprisingly, a small cadre of pro-choice Democrats decided to defend the indefensible and opposed the bill on the grounds that it might be a violation of the United States Constitution. They kept the House wrapped up in debate for five hours. Too bad they did not lend the DNR bill a couple of hours of that ill-used time. Our citizens certainly would have been better served to learn more about DNR orders instead of fetal dismemberment. Republicans finally forced the vote around 8pm that evening and the anti-dismemberment bill passed 89 to 17.
As the hours unwound, a calmness settled over me in spite of the gruesome nature of the debate. The calmness came from discovering anew, after an extended absence, that our legislative procedures are as comfortably predictable as planetary motion.
Our rules of order and our membership’s adherence to that order are the stuff of House stability that reflects the refinement of almost 300 years of political courtesy – a courtesy that’s especially needed during an abortion bill debate. Our stability allows the dispersion of power that must take place in the “peoples” house to ensure that our representative republic continues. Maybe I’m just impressed with the obvious or maybe it’s the lingering effect of the lotus flowers, but I am thankful to be back to old routines.