Author’s Note: The following story reads only 56.4 on the Flesch Kincaid Reading Test. A score of at least 60 is preferred to ensure it can be easily read. I apologize for any difficulty the reader may have.
It has finally happened. Artificial intelligence has come to the Oregon Legislature. Some may wryly observe that it is a step in the right direction.
Since the beginning of the session, Republicans in the Senate have insisted that all bills be read from the podium in their entirety, even if dozens of pages long. It is a tactic to grind the legislative process down to a crawl.
Democrats have countered by bringing in Mr. Robot. Using artificial intelligence, a robotic voice can read the bills for hours on end, never tiring, and adjust its presentation speed when called upon. Just think about what might be next. With ChatGPT now all the rage, legislators may soon begin using AI to write and deliver their floor speeches. Could computer-generated voting be right around the corner?
Republicans countered again with their own AI introduction, claiming that many bills were passing through the chamber without passing the Flesch Kincaid Reading Test. Developed some 83 years ago, the test calculates the number of syllables in words, then the number of words in sentences to determine how difficult a piece of writing is to read and comprehend. Republicans have been feeding bill text into the computer, which has then calculated that some bills, or parts thereof, fail to achieve the minimum ‘60’ score on the readability test (0-100 being the scale) and the maximum 8th-grade reading level.
It is a clever, if transparent, approach to slowing down the process. The test itself is not a conclusive evaluation of readability or understanding. The Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t pass the Flesch Kincaid test, nor does the Oath of Office senators took to begin their service. At least we all just hope they understand the meaning.
Republicans have now adjourned to math class. They are busy calculating how many days their collective membership can stay away from Senate proceedings to deny quorum. They are limited by a new constitutional amendment, just passed by voters, that says if legislators have more than 10 unexcused absences, they are barred from running for re-election.
From a policy perspective, things are less complex. Republicans are furious about HB 2002, a wide-ranging medical rights bill coming up for a vote that contains six or seven hot-button issues. Democrats are pushing the bill as the mirror opposite of legislation Republicans have been jamming through in red states, where the same bundling of multiple issues is aimed to restrict their own residents’ rights.
It is the infamous cable bundle that has been practiced in legislatures long before cable was even invented. We all know the drill. You want sports channels, but you must pay for the ‘Cooking with Charlie’ channel that you will never, ever watch. Bingo-Bango-Bundle.
While the bundle serves to enforce voting discipline in both caucuses, when issues strike at moral and ethical beliefs, bundling of such issues can weigh heavily on members of both parties. A member may have strong moral views guiding support for one issue and then have equally strong ethical concerns about supporting another. It is a Solomon’s choice with few alternatives.
A poll released just last week by the Portland firm DHM illustrates the conflict. By almost a 2-1 margin, Oregonians oppose providing medical care for gender transition to minor children, a component in HB 2002. This includes almost half of Democrats as well. Yet, other polls have shown that over 80% of Republicans support access to birth control. Both issues and numerous others are all part of the HB 2002 bundle.
Once on the floor, members have few options, although one is available. Rarely used and even less commonly known is a process in Oregon’s Legislative Procedure that allows members to ‘split the vote.’ A motion for ‘Division of the Question’ (Masons Manual Chapter 33) can be made by a member when a bill is before a legislative body. A bill can be split into two, three, or even more subjects if those subjects can stand alone as separate bills. It takes a majority vote to divide the question, but in legislatures where partisan margins are thin, it can be an effective way to deal with individual ethical conflicts.
Constitutional amendments in Oregon are based on that same principle. Only single subjects can be presented to voters so as not to conflict the voter to vote for one thing while disagreeing with another.
Absent such a move, however, the bundle is considered in its entirety. No cord-cutting allowed.
The ultimate game plan of the Republicans or counter chess moves by the Democrats are unknown. Crystal clear, however, is that the sand in the hourglass on this constitutionally restricted session is sifting quickly. Citizens have one directive for both parties: Time to Move On! (Flesch Kincaid Score 100-Grade Level 5th Grade-easily readable).