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The abbreviated 2020 legislative session had its share of hits and misses. But unfortunately, one practice continued unabated: piling smaller bills onto each other to create mega-bills.

They're called "omnibus" bills, and they're often not good for the democratic process.

When a bill makes progress toward passage, lawmakers seek to tack their stalled bills onto the one that's moving forward to give their bills a better chance of passage. While the bill that's making progress is being debated, lawmakers add their entire bills as amendments. Soon, the bill snowballs into a mega-bill.

One problem is that the process can be a way to successfully add bad legislation — or controversial bills, at least — to good bills. Controversial bills are often added to bigger bills without the scrutiny they normally would receive.

Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, succeeded in getting his House Bill 163 passed. It started as a three-page bill essentially adding "tube transport systems" (Missouri's Hyperloop project) to the list of projects that could be financed through public-private partnerships.

When it had finally passed, it was a sweeping 13-page bill that also partially repeals the state's motorcycle helmet law. Motorcycle drivers 26 years and older could go without a helmet if they have their own health insurance.

We support the further studying of a possible hyperloop, but we have opposed repeal of the helmet law.

Governors deciding whether to sign or veto bills often face dilemmas when bills contain legislation that they support and oppose. In Missouri, governors can only line-item veto budget bills.

Fitzwater's bill is a small bill compared to many others.

Sen. Mike Bernskoetter's Senate Bill 662 started as a way to make it easier for venison jerky to be donated through the Share the Harvest program. The two-page bill ended with 182 pages. Among other things, it protects insurance companies and nursing homes from legal liability.

Fortunately, the 1994 "Hammerschmidt" Missouri Supreme Court ruling requires bills be limited to a single subject, but that doesn't stop lawmakers from pushing the limits on that too.

Combining sometimes dozens of smaller bills into one omnibus bill is nothing new. Congress has done it since most of our country's existence. An early omnibus bill was the "Compromise of 1850," a package of five bills passed by Congress to defuse a political confrontation between slave and free states on the status of territories acquired in the MexicanAmerican War.

In the future, we urge lawmakers to use restraint when combining legislation and to allow thorough debate of each measure on its own merits.

News Tribune

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