Legislators shocks lobbyists, write legislation

Last week I posted on a discouragingly long list of state-level attempts to pass laws restricting municipal efforts to develop local telecommunications utilities. The list represents the fruit of a concerted effort by the large telecos to eliminate an entire category of competition. As was the case last summer in Louisiana, most of the legislation originated with teleco lobbyists.

Having lobbyists write legislation that bears the signature of elected legislators is no longer remarkable. But occasionally we get a story that highlights just how out of whack things have gotten. In the story “Internet access sparks tug of wa,r” the Charleston Daily Mail of West Viriginia reports that:

John Ruddick, a lobbyist for Verizon, left Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee furious after the committee originated a bill that could involve state, county and municipal governments in extending broadband computer services across the state.

What upset Ruddick was not only that government would get involved in providing services already offered by Verizon, other telephone companies and cable television companies, but that the bill sprung out with just 17 days left in the Legislature’s 60-day session.

“You know all of our broadband providers are interested in it, and you secretly put out a bill to do this,” he said. “That is wrong.”

Committee Chairman John Unger, D-Berkeley, said he and others did consult with Verizon, Adelphia and other companies, but he made no apologies for not releasing the bill to them before it came out of his committee.

“The special interest groups think they ought to see the legislation before the legislators see it,” he said. “That’s where everybody’s got it backwards around here. They’ve got it backwards, because they think that the special interest group ought to draft the legislation and then show it to the Legislature, and that’s not the way it should be.”

Amen, Brother Unger. How did things get so crazy that a state legislator has to defend actually writing law instead of leaving it to lobbyists?