Not only are title only bills (essentially blank pieces of legislation) not the most transparent way to introduce changes to state law (or perhaps too translucent) but they are used by lawmakers to circumvent the state Constitution. This is why it is disappointing to see 26 title only bills (13 in the House by Rep. Hunter and 13 in the Senate by Sen. Hill) introduced today. Budget chairs typically introduce title only bills so they “don’t get stuck” at the end of session.
Here are some of the titles of the 26 title only bills (HB 2003-2015 and SB 5870-5882) introduced today:
- Relating to revenue
- Relating to education
- Relating to natural resources
- Relating to health care
- Relating to human services
- Relating to state government
- Relating to fiscal matters
My favorites are the ones “relating to revenue” and “relating to fiscal matters.”
According to Article 2, Section 36 of the state Constitution:
“No bill shall be considered in either house unless the time of its introduction shall have been at least ten days before the final adjournment of the legislature, unless the legislature shall otherwise direct by a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, said vote to be taken by yeas and nays and entered upon the journal, or unless the same be at a special session.”
To get around this constitutional restriction on new bills being introduced in the last ten days of session, lawmakers use title only bills as a placeholder to place the real text of legislation in at a later time without having to secure the two-thirds vote required if the bill were dropped after the cutoff period.
Are title only bills prevalent across the country? No.
According to Bruce Feustel of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL):
“Most states I am familiar with do not allow title only bills for legislative consideration, generally under the reasoning that you need to know the details of a bill to make an informed decision about how to vote on it and even where to refer it.”
If the state’s Constitution is truly getting in the way of lawmakers being transparent and providing adequate public notice, it would be better for them to propose repeal of Article 2, Section 36 and replace with the legislative transparency recommendations we are proposing.
Our proposal would:
- Provide mandatory public notice and waiting periods before legislative action;
- Ban title only bills; and
- Subject the legislature to the same transparency requirements that are placed on local governments.
Just in case you don’t think it can happen, here is an example from the 2010 Legislative Session where the Senate Ways and Means Committee actually held a public hearing and voted on a title only bill despite the text of the bill being blank.
First the Senate Ways and Means Committee had to suspend Senate Rule 45 requiring five day public notice before bills can be heard: (click here for video)
Next a public hearing was held on the title only bill: (click here for video)
Finally the Committee took executive action on the title only bill: (click here for video)
Coalition calls on lawmakers to adopt legislative transparency reforms
[Reprinted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog; featured image: istockphoto, PeiWei]
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