Why bother giving consideration to the merits of a proposal when you have the power, and the votes, to ignore it entirely?
Yesterday, on the floor of the Maryland House of Delegates, an amendment was offered to a bill up for consideration by the House. The merits of that amendment were neither debated nor voted on.
The bill in question is HB 45, which would require parental consent before a minor can obtain a tattoo, brand, or body piercing. The sponsor of the bill, Delegate Sue Kullen, stated on the floor of the House that part of the impetus for the bill was a case in Calvert County wherein a 14 year old girl was tattooed without her parent’s consent, and developed a MRSA infection. During testimony on the bill, the committee heard that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the provision of tattoo or piercing services is analogous to an invasive medical procedure which requires parental consent – a minor is not capable of appreciating the consequences of such a decision and a parent’s consent should be required.
Subjecting oneself to this sort of procedure requires proper follow up care – in each case, infection and complications can result. It is also a decision which cannot be later undone without residual effects. Clearly, minor children ought to consult with and obtain permission from their parents before engaging in such a procedure.
The amendment in question, offered by Delegate Gail Bates, would have required parental consent for any invasive surgical procedure – logically, if a minor is not capable of giving informed consent to a procedure which pierces the skin with a needle, they are not capable of giving informed consent to a more invasive surgical procedure, requiring significantly more follow up care, with significantly higher risks.
The objections raised to the amendment by the Democrats were purely technical. The chair of the Judiciary committee questioned whether or not the amendment conformed to the rules of the House, insofar as each bill must pertain to a single subject, and no amendment may change the original purpose of a bill. The rules of the House exist to ensure orderly, reasoned debate on issues, followed by considered and deliberate voting.
Ultimately, however, the rules are interpreted and applied by the House as a whole – which translates to an up or down vote on any question of the rules. Despite an Attorney General’s opinion that the amendment was on the same subject, and a reasonable claim that the purpose of the bill was not altered, the amendment was ruled out of order. Once that occurred, the matter was no longer up for debate.
After a complex series of parliamentary maneuvers, the Speaker and the majority manipulated the rules of the House, taking advantage of superior numbers to do so, in order to stifle debate and avoid a vote.
Given the fact that the majority party has sufficent votes to kill any amendment, what is the harm in allowing free and open debate on an issue as important as the health and safety of minors? One has to wonder what exactly they are afraid of.