The men who will shape the way the state senate debates proposed new laws next year talk nice about each other in these weeks before the debates begin…But their attitude toward an important part of those discussions could cause friction.
In a chamber with 23 Republicans and only 11 Democrats, the Democrats cannot keep the Republicans from passing their own priorities if the Republicans get out the steamroller. But the minority party traditionally has one major weapon–the filibuster, the ability to tie up a bill until the majority party makes it more acceptable. Incoming minority leader Victor Callahan sees it as a valuable tool. "The filibuster should be used, if it’s appropriate, to propose change to the bill that allows the majority to pass it. But the majority needs to understand that they need to change the bill….In the past, the filibuster has been used to achieve compromise which is the whole purpose of the Senate," says Callahan.
Incoming majority leader Kevin Engler, however, dislikes it. He says, "I am against a filibuster just to kill (a bill),"
Senate tradition for many years was that debate would not be cut off. In recent years Republicans have not been reluctant to do that…and Engler says he would use it when the Democrats are just trying to talk a bill to death, not trying to improve it. Callahan says the Republicans have abused the power to cut off debate.
Words about cooperation between the parties and bipartisan work to solve problems are easily spoken before legislative sessions begin. Starting in January, observers will learn if today’s words are tomorrow’s practices—or if too many words trigger efforts to stop them.