Anyone in the mood to see a play? Well, just go down to the Unicameral and take a seat in the gallery. No need to buy a ticket. You see, if you pay taxes, you’ve already reserved your seat for this production.
What’s playing? Ever heard of Waiting for Godot? It’s an absurdist play by Samuel Beckett. For two days, “a pair of men divert themselves while they wait expectantly and in vain for someone named Godot to arrive. They claim him as an acquaintance but, in fact, hardly know him, admitting that they would not recognize him were they to see him. To occupy themselves, they eat, sleep, converse, argue, sing, play games, exercise, swap hats, and contemplate suicide — anything ‘to hold the terrible silence at bay’. The play opens with the character Estragon struggling to remove his boot from his foot. Estragon eventually gives up, muttering, ‘Nothing to be done.’ His friend Vladimir takes up the thought and muses on it, the implication being that nothing is a thing that has to be done and this pair is going to have to spend the rest of the play doing it.”
Of course, our state legislators have rewritten the script a bit to suit the times and the sensibilities of . . . well, themselves. Heaven forbid they play to their audience — US. In this Unicameral production they never get past “doing nothing”. They remain perpetually stuck in the first act.
What am I talking about? Since the Unicameral convened, we here at GiN have questioned whether our elected officials are there to legislate or whether they are bent on playing games. Their handling of the issue posed by public employee collective bargaining and how that plays out — to the taxpayers’ detriment — before the CIR proves that state senators aren’t playing anymore, they’re play-acting.
After squandering the opportunity to reform the CIR last session, our current crop of state senators, we are told, have seen the light. No less than NINE bills have been introduced, each one purporting to reform the process in one way or another. (The fact that so many bills were introduced is extraordinary in itself. It is a rare thing for more than one bill to be put forward on any subject, thanks to a lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering that apparently takes place in all those smoke-filled rooms at the Capitol.)
Our illustrious governor even made a cameo appearance when he had Senator Harms introduce the governor’s own proposal, LB555, for the Legislature’s consideration. Now, the governor is being quoted in the local paper as wanting “meaningful” reform of the CIR. (Too bad you can’t tell that from reading his own bill!)
The Legislature dutifully held hearings on each of the nine bills. Oh, I’m sorry. Did I say “HEARINGS”? They held ONE hearing, lumping all nine of the bills together and, as a result, limiting the amount of time devoted to discussion concerning any one of the proposals. Commenters were permitted to speak for a maximum of three minutes and were repeatedly urged not to speak at all if what they had to say resembled remarks made by those ahead of them in line. The hearing began at 1:30 in the afternoon and continued for more than SEVEN HOURS. The transcript is more than 200 pages long.
But this was just an elaborate prologue to the play itself. You see, the senators have accepted the role of the friends, waiting for the arrival of Godot. Who is Godot, you may ask? Senator Steve Lathrop. (Hold your applause until the end. Please. Trust me.)
Senator Lathrop is the Chairman of the Business and Labor Committee. That’s the Committee that took testimony about the CIR bills, and it’s the Committee that will determine which, if any, of those bills gets out to the floor of the Legislature for debate.
Like Vladimir and Estragon, the other 48 senators will wait in vain for their “Godot” to arrive. Unfortunately, the way this is scripted, even if Senator Lathrop puts in an appearance, we, the audience, will wish he hadn’t.
Why? Let me count the reasons and the ways:
- Senator Lathrop is a Democrat. And, yes, I do know that the Unicameral is nonpartisan. Excuse me for a moment. (BWAH-HA-HA-HA!!!) Okay. I’m back now.
- Since at least 2008, the group that has most consistently supported Senator Lathrop, making up the largest percentage of his political donations as a group, is organized labor, including public sector unions. (See graphs images, below).
- In spite of these facts, Senator Lathrop was ELECTED to the chairmanship of the Business and Labor Committee by the votes of his fellow state senators. And, get this: A supermajority of those fellow senators are Republican. Speaking as one of those Republican senator’s constituents, I thought you knew better. Guess I was wrong.
- Senator Lathrop introduced one of the nine bills that proposes to reform the CIR, LB397.
- LB397 is a “shell” bill. IT DOESN’T PROPOSE TO DO ANYTHING TO ALTER THE CIR. It’s merely an empty “shell” waiting to be filled.
- In spite of this fact, LB397 was one of the bills that was “heard” by the Committee on February 7th. During the time allotted to discussion of LB397, Senator Lathrop talked about a group of people representing “all sides” that he has convened over the last few months to come to an agreement about how best to reform the CIR.
- Senator Lathrop’s working group includes himself, representatives of the public sector unions, representatives of the elected officials at the municipal level, and their lawyers. Funny how “all parties” doesn’t seem to include the people who pay the tab — the taxpayers.
- Of course, because the working group’s discussions are ongoing, no specifics could be revealed at the hearing. And, because LB397 has already received its required “hearing,” there’s going to be no opportunity for public comment on the content of the bill, once content is eventually added. I guess we’ll just have to wait until they pass it so we can see what’s in it.
- Senator Lathrop has made it crystal clear that LB397 is THE bill that will make it out of his Committee. He’s also made it equally clear that LB694 and LR29CA, the two measures that would do away with collective bargaining by public sector employees in Nebraska, will decidedly NOT.
Meanwhile, the other 48 of our state senators eat, sleep, converse, argue, sing, play games, exercise, swap hats, and contemplate suicide — anything “to hold the terrible silence at bay,” the implication being that nothing is a thing that has to be done and these senators are going to have to spend the rest of the play doing it.