MARC CHASE: Stop the shell game of hidden agendas in lawmaking

2013-08-01T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Stop the shell game of hidden agendas in lawmakingMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
August 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Write this down please, noting the date, time and where you were when you read it. I am in firm agreement with a north Lake County government leader — one who operates north of Ridge Road — on a particular issue. His suggestion of creating clearer city ordinances should spread like wildfire to all levels of government, including state and federal.

Rosendo Cuevas, a Democrat who represents East Chicago's 5th District, really is on to something with his proposal now pending before an East Chicago City Council committee.

Cuevas recommends limiting all ordinances — essentially local bills that create or change laws within the city — to one subject each. This may seem overly simple to some folks — something that should already be in place. But it's not.

Cuevas was inspired to propose this new rule for city ordinances by a recent measure that came before the council. That ordinance gave Fire Chief Emiliano Perez the ability to appoint his own deputy chief. As a package deal, another plank of the same ordinance enabled city residents — who apply to work at the Fire Department — to receive a 15 percent credit toward their entrance exam scores.

Cuevas agreed with giving exam credits to East Chicago employees who apply for work at the Fire Department. It's good business to cultivate local talent. But he disagreed with the deputy chief appointment portion of the ordinance, feeling it more important to require testing for such a position to remove the politics from such appointments.

Cuevas ultimately was compelled to vote against the ordinance, even though he agreed with part of it.

His point that such items should be debated and considered separately on their own merits is well founded. How often do we see this in Congress when something like a farm bill, for example, is intermingled with a provision for the federal food stamp program? The two items are for all intents and purposes unrelated, but our lawmakers package them together so you can't have one without the other.

The practice of combining unrelated — or loosely related — measures together in the same bill sometimes is a sign of legislative compromise. But the practice also enables a potentially nefarious shell game, in which one can hide — or hold hostage — a piece of legislation behind another.

Separating such topics would absolutely create a clearer, more honest government process. It also would make things much more user friendly for the voters who care to evaluate the work of politicians and their stances on the issues.

Perhaps that reasoning is precisely why we will likely never see such a widespread rule taking hold in our various levels of government.

As Dorothy learned in Oz, the "great and powerful" may not stand to benefit from those paying attention to the "man behind the curtain."

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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