Finding Consensus After Newtown, But What Does Consensus Mean?

Feb 14, 2013

One goal of the state legislature's commission on Newtown is to find bipartisan consensus.  But as WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, defining consensus is tricky.

The commission has subcommittees considering new laws on mental health, school security, and guns. It has a loose deadline of the end of the month.  "I think the question right now is, 'What does consensus mean?'" That's Democratic State Senator Beth Bye. "That's a really important question for the stage that we're in as a legislature.  Does consensus mean bipartisan?  Or does consensus mean 100 percent agreement?  The committees are going to have to work that out, and I'm sure that leadership will be giving us guidance." Larry Cafero is the Republican minority leader in the house.  He says that legislative leaders met last week... "To discuss many things.  But among them was, 'What defines consensus?'  And I think the suggestion came out of Speaker Sharkey's mouth." He's speaking about Democratic House Speaker Brendan Sharkey.  And, according to Cafero, Sharkey defined consensus at the subcommittee level in a two-pronged way.  First, it means a simple majority.  But second, it also means that at least one member from each of the four caucuses -- House and Senate Democrats and Republicans -- has to sign on.   Meet those two goals, and a recommendation would be forwarded to leaders for further action.  Cohen: Is that something that was agreed upon? Cafero: The room I was in it was, with the six leaders. Williams: My recollection of the conversation was that our subcommittees would not be required to have formal votes on any of the recommendations. That's Democratic Senate President Don Williams.  "If someone felt strongly about a recommendation to send on to the leaders, then it should be sent on.  And that it would be helpful if the subcommittees were able to indicate those items where there was broad agreement.  But the lack of broad agreement would not be a bar to recommending a particularly item." So, for now at least, there doesn't appear to be consensus on what consensus means.  For WNPR, I'm Jeff Cohen.