Monday, June 16, 2008

The Three-Headed Legislative Monster

During a recent update, I wrote about some of the circumstances surrounding the close of the 2008 session.

During the last two days of session, there were 145 recorded votes. This accounts for more than 10% of the votes for this year's entire session. To make matters worse, a proposed piece of legislation is normally required to be posted for a certain number of hours in order to be reviewed properly. This requirement is suspended during the last two days of session, and as a result, many bills were brought to the floor without having sufficient time for review. You can imagine how challenging it is for legislators to read new bills while voting on other bills that have just been posted for review.

I wanted to explain my observations of some of the reasons why I this has occurred.

Part of the problem has been the equally divided partisan membership of the State Senate. This anomaly has essentially created a three-headed monster that transforms an already cumbersome two-party legislative process into a three-party affair that is very vulnerable to being the cause for delaying the consideration of legislation to the last minute. The process consists of the leadership of the House, and two leadership teams in the Senate, all of whom can pretty much determine if a bill lives or dies.

For instance, for the past two years, at least one of the groups in the Senate dragged their feet until the last minute when it was time to appoint members to conference committees that approve bills waiting for consideration. This meant that many bills were jammed up until the very end of the session because they could not be approved without having a conference committee named.

This year, a late session breakdown in negotiations on one of the key end-of-session issues led another Senate group to stop signing conference committee reports shortly before the end of session. Once again, this had the effect of delaying consideration of bills until it was too late to allow them proper review.

During the last week of session, the House simply stopped consideration of Senate bills. Why? Because the Senate was not hearing House bills fast enough. House leaders were obviously afraid that House bills would die simply because the Senate might adjourn without hearing them. As author of some House bills that were pending in the Senate, I can testify this was certainly a reason for concern. This action pushed a large number of pending Senate bills before the House into the last two days of session.

I do not believe this process is a conspiracy designed to allow mischief for mischief's sake. Some, if not all, of the above steps may have been very justifiable actions by the groups involved. However, there is no doubt that the door is wide open for bad legislation to sneak through the system, which is exactly what occurred this year. And the dynamics of the system must be reformed sooner, rather than later. Next week I will write about a bad bill I believe was intentionally timed to take advantage of the chaos with just minutes left in session.

No comments: