Perhaps the title of this entry begs the question: why would one need to “stalk” the legislative calendar? Aren’t there guidelines that require advance notification of the public when bills are going to be heard and voted upon?
Technically, yes–but that doesn’t mean New Jersey is going to make it easy for you.
Case in point: if you’re trying to monitor the Legislative Calendar by clicking on the “Legislative Calendar” menu option on the left hand side of the screen, you can’t always count on having the very latest information. Why? Because sometimes, the printable calendar with committee hearing info and Voting Session agendas doesn’t update right away, but the information IS posted elsewhere on the NJ Legislative website–and you have to know exactly where to look for it if you want to say informed. [I covered some of this process in a previous post, but today’s calendar presented a prime example that was too good not to spotlight]
For example: here’s a screen shot from 7:27pm, showing that the most recently posted Legislative Calendar was at 2pm yesterday*:
However, if you follow the Office of Legislative Services Twitter account (because, simply EVERYONE is on Twitter, right?), you would have seen this notification posted at around 6:30pm:
But, wait a second. The current calendar that’s posted listed the Voting Sessions, but I don’t recall seeing anything about the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee meeting tomorrow. Hmm….let’s check the calendar again:
Yup, it’s not there. Nevertheless, there IS a Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing scheduled for tomorrow, with the controversial Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, & Marketplace Modernization Act on the agenda (S21) and you only have until 11am tomorrow morning to submit your comments to the committee.
Here’s the deal: sometimes, the Calendar on the Home Page has links to meeting information and Voting Session lists that are not listed on the Legislative Calendar pdf, but you have to be a policy wonk/schedule stalker like me to know where to find it. Come, let me teach you my ways!
Start by looking for this on the Home Page:
Then click on any date that is highlighted, which indicates some form of legislative action is taking place, and you’ll see what’s on the schedule. Here’s November 19th:
If you click on the Senate Budget & Appropriations line, you’ll be brought to a page with the list of bills being heard, and the info on how to weigh in:
Here’s November 23rd.
If you click on the Sessions, you’ll see the list of bills up for a vote…well, most of them, that is:
You see, even though A4372 is only on the list for a Senate vote, the bill was amended on the floor of the Senate a few weeks ago, after the Assembly already voted on it back in July. So, it needs to go back to the Assembly for a concurrence with that amendment at some point, and chances are that’ll happen tomorrow after the Senate votes.
And yes, all of this is happening via remote electronic voting sessions. During Thanksgiving holiday week. While the coronavirus is surging again.
Unfortunately, you need to be extra vigilant in monitoring legislative activity during those times when the public is most likely to be distracted, because that’s when controversial and/or rushed legislation is most likely to move.
Oh, and about those guidelines that require public notification? Keep in mind: bills can be added to the agenda for a committee hearing at any time, and they can be put to a vote as “an emergency” at any time. So, while you can make a valiant effort to stalk the legislative calendars and agendas as closely as possible, it’s still possible to have a bill fly through with little to no public input at all.
Which is why I spend what little free time I have keeping an “Eye on Trenton” and reporting what I see.
*UPDATE: while I was posting this, an updated Legislative Calendar posted at 8pm. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t list the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. I suppose we’ll see another update eventually?
*UPDATE#2: As expected, the printable calendar was updated at some point after the original was posted at 8pm. There’s no way to tell when it was updated, though, because “internet updates” do not change the original time stamp on when the calendar was first posted, so you have no way of knowing how long it took to get corrected.
It does say right at the top: Calendar Subject to Change, but one might argue that in the interests of full government transparency, there ought to be a record kept of Internet Updates–especially when the omission on the first version was a public hearing on a controversial piece of legislation.