Hey, Texplainer: Why is there a COW in the Capitol? Did a stray get loose from a cattle drive going through town?
Legislation has to go through committees before the entire House or Senate can have a look. It's a way of dividing up the work and getting things straightened out as much as possible before they get the full treatment from the Legislature.
But there's a pecking order involved. Who's on which committee? Which committee gets that especially interesting or awful or beneficial bill. And there's a trick, used once or twice every session in the Senate, to get around the pecking order.
It's a COW — a Committee of the Whole, composed of all 31 members of the Senate. It works just like a regular committee (but requires a bigger room), hearing from witnesses, taking amendments and so on, and then a lot of what happens in committee gets repeated when the legislation at issue goes to the full Senate — the same 31 people. It's rare and unwieldy in the 150-member House, but they can do it, too, calling all members together as one committee (be glad you're not the staffer who has to keep them fed and watered). In fact, this afternoon, the House voted down a proposal (130 to 13) to form a COW on voter ID, in part because it would have blocked any public testimony. They've generally used it when considering impeachment of various state officials.
In the Senate, it's used, generally, for controversial issues, like the first bill out of the chute this year: photo voter ID. And if history is a guide, when redistricting comes up later this session, they'll do what they do when everybody wants to play.
They'll call in the COW.
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