By Megan Poinski
The General Assembly already has a pile of 47 bills that have been prefiled so members can get right to work when they convene next month.
On the House of Delegates side, nobody has prefiled more than Del. Michael Smigiel.
Smigiel, R-Cecil, is well known for being a prolific pre-filer. For the 2012 session, 12 bills that Smigiel has sponsored are already prepared for consideration.
“I do it for tactical and practical reasons,” he said.
A pre-filed bill is one that is drafted and submitted for consideration early. These bills are already numbered and available to be read on the General Assembly website. Any sitting member of the legislature could prefile for this session, but according to the Maryland Code, drafting requests were due by Nov. 15, and the bills had to be submitted by Dec. 2.
Smigiel’s prefiled bills are all over the map in terms of what they would do. They vary from amending the Maryland Constitution to establish a Victims’ Bill of Rights to automatically presuming that a person applying for a handgun permit has a good reason to wear, carry or transport the weapon.
He is also the House of Delegates’ torchbearer for several well-publicized Republican bills, like requiring PlanMaryland to receive legislative approval before it becomes law, and increasing public notice and comment for toll increases. The majority of them are new to this legislative session.
The reason that Smigiel tends to get his bills in early is to make sure they receive full hearings, as well as the needed time for deliberations and amendments, he said. During the 90-day General Assembly session, the body considers bills, listens to testimony, and drafts amendments at a frenetic pace in the final weeks of the session. Committee hearings to take testimony on bills can drag on for hours, and those who want to testify on the legislation – including the members introducing them – can spend the better part of a day waiting for a few minutes to speak.
When a bill is prefiled, Smigiel said, hearings can be scheduled early – without the long days and crowded rooms that come later in the session. Legislation like the constitutional amendment for the Victims’ Bill of Rights, which was suggested to Smigiel by a murder victims’ family advocacy group, will be heard in a more relaxed setting.
Also, Smigiel said, the legislative process can be messy and slow. When a bill has more time to move through the General Assembly, it is easier to manage.
And while Smigiel said that his bevy of bills sometimes makes his colleagues groan, he said his strategy is working. In this year’s session, three of his bills were passed by both houses of the General Assembly. (One was vetoed by Gov. Martin O’Malley and did not become law.) Two became law in 2010.
“There are not many Republicans who consistently get three bills passed,” Smigiel said.
One bill that Smigiel keeps prefiling – and that never goes anywhere – would amend the constitution to allow appropriations and tax increases to be petitioned to referendum. The bill usually gets assigned to the Rules Committee and never gets a hearing, Smigiel said.
However, Smigiel believes in the concept, and said that he thinks the people of Maryland would, too. Citizens should be able to nullify government contracts to spend millions on slot machines, or should be able to stop taxes that cut too deep, he said. And this is an important year to get this bill out there; officials have already spent quite a lot of time talking about tax increases for this coming General Assembly session.
“I want the people to know that this is an option, and I am proud to put it forward,” Smigiel said. “I can tell them, ‘The majority won’t allow you to even contemplate this.’”