Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
In the last two weeks, three people have called or e-mailed to tell me, in essence, that I don’t understand the Senate DPS legislation because I wasn’t “at the table” when it was drafted. I find it curious that two of them used almost identical language.
At any rate, that isn’t how it works; legislation is not a secret code. For almost 11 years, a big part of my job consisted of interpreting statutes. That’s what appellate court law clerks do. I was not “at the table” during the drafting of even one of the statutes I interpreted; nor was the judge for whom I worked. But I didn’t have to be there during the drafting process to understand the statutory text. After all, I can read.
We don’t interpret legislation on the basis of promises that were made to lobbyists or what was said to a reporter in the hallway of the Capitol Building. Nor do we interpret legislation on the basis of preliminary negotiations, unwritten side deals, secret agreements, or statements of intent made by individual lawmakers and committees. The Senate DPS legislation means just what it says—and that is exactly how it will be construed if it’s ultimately enacted and signed into law. So go ahead and tell me that the Senate plan would appropriate $515 million in state funds to pay off DPS’s operating debt, that it would appropriate $200 million to the New DPS for start-up expenses, and that it was never the senators’ intention to include language authorizing the New DPS to contract away its core educational functions to other entities. These are all things that people have actually told me in the last couple of weeks. But legislation means precisely what it says, and each of these things is explicitly contradicted by language set forth in one or more of the Senate bills.
The people who claim that the Senate legislation doesn’t really mean what it says are the ones who don’t understand. I find it disconcerting that we have people working in and reporting on the legislative process who know so little about legislation. If you can read critically, you can understand a piece of legislation just as well as a lawmaker, lobbyist, or anyone else who might have been “at the table.” So don’t just take their word for it; go find out for yourself.