I read on Del. Kris Amundson’s blog about legislation she’s carrying to keep sexual predators from being teachers. Looking at the bill on Richmond Sunlight I saw something odd — another bill nearly identical to Del. Amundson’s, but filed by Del. Jeff Frederick. Only Amundson’s bill was filed on January 9, and by the time Frederick’s bill was filed, Amundson’s bill had been in committee for nearly a week. So he had to know about the existing bill.
This rang a bell, so I checked and, lo and behold, Frederick did this before, only more boldly. During last year’s session, Amundson prefiled HB1971 on January 5. Four days later, Frederick filed the exact same bill. To the word. So what happened? Del. Amundson’s bill was killed, rolled into Frederick’s (which wasn’t much work, what with being identical), and Frederick’s bill ended up passing and becoming law. I asked Del. Amundson about this bill, and she explained to me that she’d worked on the bill the prior summer on behalf of a constituent — the idea was original.
So now I’m working on a little code for Richmond Sunlight to identify duplicate bills. (Unfortunately, it’s incredibly slow, so until I figure out how to optimize this code, I can’t make it available on the site.) But I ran a query for other duplicate bills and, wow, there are some humdingers. Often they’re a case of a totally obvious bill (i.e., abuser fees) that lots of legislators want to take credit for, come reelection. Since the Department of Legislative Services writes the bills, two legislators who describe identical concepts are going to get the exact same text. But in other cases, the ideas strike me as original, and the filing dates seem to show a pretty clear instance of legislation sniping.
Another one that came up with this duplicate bill code: Del. Shannon Valentine’s HB1731 and Del. Ben Cline’s HB2693, which are identical, to the word. Del. Valentine prefiled her bill on December 22. Del. Cline filed his on January 10. Valentine’s bill had been assigned to subcommittee by the time Cline got around to introducing his xerox of it.
Perhaps I’m just revealing my ignorance of the legislative process. Maybe there’s a totally reasonable explanation for this sort of thing. But from where I’m sitting, this just looks a little lame.