Be wary of riders taking unpopular legislation into law
Not every law is passed in plain sight. In fact, unpopular bills become law all the time, purely by riding the coattails of other bills. These are called policy riders or rider bills, and they’re one of the sneakier tools employed by lawmakers to get the job done. Unfortunately, riders are also incredibly powerful, which makes them all the more dangerous.
For instance, say you’re a senator and you want to pass a law banning cats from your state. You know such a bill isn’t likely to pass on its own because some of your fellow lawmakers like cats or you have constituents who like cats.
At the same time, there’s a bill coming through your state’s legislature that gives everyone a free puppy, and that bill is very popular. So, to get your legislation through, you attach your cat ban to the puppy bill as a rider.
And it won’t be that hard because the puppy bill is 20,000 pages long and no one’s read the whole thing. On top of that, the puppy bill is high-profile. Your fellow lawmakers know if they don’t pass it, the public will hate them, so everyone votes yes on the puppy bill. And thus, the law banning cats also passes, affecting thousands of cat owners who now have to say goodbye to Fifi and Mr. Snuggles.
All that sounds incredibly silly, but while a cat ban is thankfully only fantasy, riders are real, and situations like these aren’t as ludicrous as you’d think.
Setting the scene
We became interested in riders only recently when we were looking to update our research on predictive scheduling laws, which you might be familiar with. Essentially, predictive scheduling laws (also called fair workweek laws) are being passed in cities and states across the US, with the intent of giving retail and food industry workers more control over their time. The laws vary from state to state and even city to city, but the basic components are these:
- Advanced notice — In some places, employers must now give employees 48 hours’ notice of their upcoming schedules. In others, it’s a minimum two weeks’ notice. Should an employer change the schedule, they may be required to provide “predictability pay” to the affected employees.
- Limits to on-call shifts — Some laws have banned on-call shifts altogether. Others have allowed them, with the stipulation that should a worker be called in, they will earn time and a half for that shift.
In the process of researching new state laws and proposals regarding predictive scheduling, we stumbled across something interesting: state lawmakers using riders to pass anti-predictive scheduling legislation. And they’re hiding these riders in the darndest of places. Check out this real-life example of a rider in action.
Speaking of puppies …
Ohio’s Senate Bill 331, whose short title is Regulate Dog Sales and License Pet Stores, is summarized as such:
“To regulate the sale of dogs from pet stores and dog retailers, to require the Director of Agriculture to license pet stores, and to revise the civil penalties applicable to dog breeders and other specified entities […] to prohibit a person from engaging in sexual conduct with an animal and related acts, to provide for the seizure and impoundment of an animal that is the subject of a violation, and to authorize a sentencing court to require an offender to undergo psychological evaluation or counseling; to prohibit and establish an increased penalty for knowingly engaging in activities associated with cockfighting, bearbaiting, or pitting an animal against another; to remove the residency requirement for the appointment of an agent to a county humane society; and to make an appropriation.”
The law has been applauded for its protection of animals, with news outlets all over the country (and even the globe) celebrating, in particular, the ban on bestiality. And who doesn’t want that? But see where those three little dots are? This is the text that goes there:
“to govern construction and attachment activities related to micro wireless facilities in the public way; to prohibit political subdivisions from establishing minimum wage rates different from the rate required by state law; to generally grant private employers exclusive authority to establish policies concerning hours and location of work, scheduling, and fringe benefits, unless an exception applies”
Ignoring the part about cell phone towers (another rider!), are you seeing what we’re seeing? Looks like a law banning cities in Ohio from passing predictive scheduling laws — stuffed in between pet store licensing and penalties for animal abuse!
If you’d like to read the bill in its entirety, you can do so by clicking on “view current version” from the link above. The part about predictive scheduling is halfway down page 15 of the PDF, under section 4113.85. It states “the following matters are exclusively the result of an employer’s policy.” Here are a few excerpts:
(1) The number of hours an employee is required to work or be on call for work;
(2) The time when an employee is required to work or be on call for work;
(4) The amount of notification an employee receives of work schedule assignments or
changes to work schedule assignments, including any addition or reduction of hours, cancellation of a shift, or change in the date or time of a work shift;
(7) Whether an employer will provide advance notice of an employee’s initial work or shift schedule, notice of new schedules, or notice of changed schedules, including whether an employer will provide employees with predictive schedules;
Essentially, the rider is saying that the right to schedule employees, from when the schedule is made to whether or not it includes on-call shifts, lies solely with the employer. Cities or other local governments cannot pass predictive scheduling laws like those in New York City or Chicago.
The argument for single-subject rules
Whether you agree with predictive scheduling laws or not, riders have a knack for confusing already complex legislation. To counteract the confusion, many states — including Ohio — have passed laws to keep riders out of their bills. These are states with single-subject requirements (similar to separate-vote requirements). Fifteen states have them, and 11 more have something similar.
According to Ballotpedia.org, there are three main arguments in favor of a single-subject rule or separate-vote requirement:
- Initiatives that only cover one topic are easier to understand.
- Those voting on the initiative can do so with a “clear intent” of that issue.
- There’s “no ambiguity regarding what the intention of each voter was when they cast their vote.”
Basically, if you’re voting on a bill about animal welfare without riders, you understand what you’re voting for and you’re able to cast your vote solely based on that issue. Later, if someone looks back at your voting record, they can say with some confidence they know your stance on animal welfare legislation.
So what happened to the puppy bill?
In June of 2017, Franklin County’s Judge Richard A. Frye sided with 50 Ohio cities, ruling certain amendments to Senate Bill 331 (Regulate Dog Sales and License Pet Stores) unconstitutional, citing that these riders violated the single-subject rule in the Ohio Constitution.
Luckily, the court decided to uphold the ban on besteality and other positive parts of SB 331, stating, “The Court further finds that those provisions relating to the primary subject of animal welfare shall be retained.” It may not be a free puppy, but it’s still great news for Ohio residents — two-legged and four-legged alike.
That said, riders aren’t always dealt with so easily. In fact, more often than not, they’re highly effective (for better or, more often than not, for worse). Ohio’s court was able to, essentially, do a line-item veto, meaning they were able to rule the riders unconstitutional while keeping the bulk of the law alive. But the federal government does not have a single-subject law, so such an act wouldn’t be possible for a bill passed by Congress. Thus, US laws with riders on them must either pass and be put into effect in their entirety or not be passed at all.
If you’re interested in diving as far into riders as we have, you can start by seeing if your state has adopted a single-subject requirement (there’s a full list on ballotpedia.com). From there, why not check out this story on how the REAL ID Act came to pass or this one about the 1879 Rider Wars. And if you are interested in the fate of predictive scheduling in your city or state, don’t just be on the lookout for a major bill — keep a wary eye out for riders, too!