Monday, May 23, 2011

A Big Difference

Last week appears to have been the last time during which the Legislature will meet in 2011. While the Legislature could technically still return this week, it is unlikely we will do so.

The last few days of this legislative year contrasted heavily from the last days of previous sessions. I think this is probably the first year where I did not feel like I had been run over by a truck during the last two days of session.

During the last two days of session in previous years, countless numbers of legislative initiatives were placed on the House of Representatives’ calendar with little notice. These proposals contained any number of suspicious proposals that did not have time to be vetted by public purview. This was possible because House rules at that time did not require bills to wait on the calendar prior to consideration in the last two days.

Legislators were asked to vote on a large number of provisions they had little time to read. You can only imagine how challenging it was to read large bills that had just been posted to the calendar a few minutes before they were put on the floor for a vote. This had to be completed while listening to debate, considering other bills being debated at the same time, and which also had just been placed on the consideration calendar. It was a gargantuan task.

During those last days of session, I used to spend a great deal of time rapidly scanning through page after page of proposed legislation in an attempt to catch any new proposals contrary to the principles on which I base my vote.

I am delighted to report this year that things were much different. The new House rules dictated that legislation must be processed through a public conference committee process, and required the proposals to be placed on a legislative calendar with several hours of notice to lawmakers and the public.

There were several bills that contained new proposals, and in some cases, amendments were attached to bills in the conference committee process which were significantly different from the previously vetted version of the bill. However, it was not difficult to keep up with the legislation because it was placed on the calendar for consideration and the new House conference committee process allowed for the public vetting of many of these new proposals. This made it far less likely that a legislator would vote for a bill only later to realize that it contained a proposal of significant impact which he/she did not support.

There was no significant need for a last-minute rapid scan of the bills shortly before the vote. In addition, the House only had to work late only two nights of the last week. The practice of deliberating policy proposals late into the night hours is a habit that leads to very bad policy making.

I am convinced that the new rules deterred a lot of possible legislative mischief because legislators would surely have hesitated to introduce controversial proposals into the new process. It is my opinion that these latest rule changes are dramatic in scope and have made a substantive positive difference in the legislative process.

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