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'Snakes' at the Capitol

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BATON ROUGE- The session is nearly over which means special groups known as conference committees begin to form. Those are special committees where important bills go to get hashed out, but can also be the catalyst for legislative mischief.

"This is the time of the year when the 'snakes' come out," said Robert Travis Scott with the Public Affairs Research Council. A "snake" refers to extra legislation added to a bill in a conference committee. "A typical example of a 'snake' is when something is added to a bill that maybe even the author didn't intend to add to it," added Scott.

Lawmakers use conference committees when the Senate and the House fail to see eye to eye on a bill. More than likely this is where the budget will end up.

The committees usually meet right before the session ends and issue reports for the full legislature to vote up or down. However, political experts say there's so many reports being issued and so little time for lawmakers to thoroughly examine the reports that sometimes sneaky bits of legislation can get added to the bills.

Scott says the "snakes" usually get added to the more obscure bills. If something gets added in a conference committee, it can take weeks before anyone realizes it's in there, and by that time the bill has already been approved.

The committees often meet in secret and are made up of 6 members, three from each chamber hand-picked by the legislative leadership. Government watchdog groups say there's nothing unusual about these committees.

"This is usually how its done," said Jan Moller with the Louisiana Budget Project, "this has been a feature of democracy as long as there's been democracy in America."

Moller says the system could be improved with more transparency, but adds it's up to the lawmakers and the media to be extra vigilant as the committees issue their reports.

 

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