April 11, 2011

Blog: Scores of bills left hanging on the last day, but most have already died

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State House at sunset.

State House at sunset.

As the General Assembly convenes for its 90th and final day Monday, the Senate will be meeting at 10 a.m. legislative day April 6. Across the hall, the House comes in at 11 a.m., April 7. Even for those of us not traveling in the legislative time machine, 13 or 14 hours later, both chambers will finish at midnight, April 11.

For a couple of weeks now, the House and Senate have been “saving days,” staying on the same legislative day as the world turns and the calendar moves forward. This allows them to move to a different day instantaneously for an action as the constitution requires – such as having a bill read on three different days before passage.

Several days behind, it may seem like the lawmakers have been poking along in the first year of their term.

They did introduce several hundred fewer bills than they have in the previous two years. Out of the 2,353 bills introduced this year, they have already sent about 20% of them (446 bills) to the governor’s desk for signing. Many of these are fairly non-controversial legislation that receives little media attention. (The sources of these numbers are the status reports on the General Assembly website for the Senate and House.)

The legislators have done the only thing the constitution requires them to do: pass the budget. The legislative history

on House Bill 70, the budget, says the House and Senate both approved the conference committee report a week ago on April 4, but the House actually voted on it on Thursday, and the Senate approved it on Friday, with all but four of the 55 Republicans in both chambers voting against it.

The conference committee report on the capital budget will be on the floor Monday. Final action is still pending on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and medical marijuana.

That leaves 136 bills that have passed one chamber in the same form but not the other. Some have already gone to conference committees to work out the differences. Once a conference comes to agreement, the lawmakers can only accept or reject the compromise.

Even with the lickety-split pace of the final day, dozens of bills could be left by the wayside, especially because of the rather antiquated constitutional requirement that they be physically printed in their final form before passage. The flickering pixels on the computers all the lawmakers now have is not enough.

Two-thirds of the bills introduced this year have already died, executed in committee by a voice vote, withdrawn by the sponsor or simply had no action taken on them at all.

A total of 681 received unfavorable reports from a committee, but 268 of those were withdrawn by the sponsor expecting an unfavorable report.

The Senate committees have kept more bills “in the drawer,” meaning the chairman fails to bring them to a vote.  Forty-four percent of Senate bills (444 bills) got a hearing, but never got a committee vote. In the House, 31% of bills got no vote after they had a hearing.

–Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com