The annual flurry of lawmaking activity that accompanies the end of the legislative session mercifully came to an end at the stroke of midnight. As is custom in the General Assembly, most of the action was crammed into just a few days. Though normal, the process should prompt legislators to adopt some common sense reforms to make it more rational.
Of the 387 bills that passed the State Senate in this session, 193 (50 percent) were approved in the final 10 days, including 72 on the last day of the regular session. The tallies from the State House were no better. They passed 385 bills during the entire session with 199, or 52 percent, coming in the last 10 days.
As I wrote last year, this is the way they always do it. During the final 10 days of last year’s regular session, 172 bills passed the House, or 39 percent of their total, and 229 zoomed through the Senate, an incredible 49 percent of the bills they passed. The 2010 regular session produced similar numbers: the House completed 226 bills, or 51 percent of its work, in the last 10 days while the Senate addressed 293 bills, or 62 percent of its business, in the same timeframe.
The bills passed in this manner were just as varied this time as in previous years, spanning from a bill allowing the president of the board of the Agricultural Experiment Station to excuse board member absences to one that established a fine art secured lending license, an education reform package, and allowing the sale of alcohol on Sunday.
It is true that this is the way it is always done, but that does not mean it should continue to be done this way. Several changes should be made to address the problem:
• Consider fewer bills at a slower pace — With the end of the Speaker Donovan era, there is an opportunity for the next Speaker to reform the legislative process via control of the legislative calendar. Pushing fewer bills and spreading them out over more days to consider, especially if one is not taken away from the task by a busy congressional campaign schedule, would be helpful.
• Make the legislative session shorter — One way to put downward pressure on the number of bills considered is a bit counterintuitive: shorten the legislative session. With less time to do damage, legislators will be forced to prioritize
• Longer terms for legislators — It is a big challenge for a legislator to get their “good ideas” enacted into law in the narrow span of two legislative sessions. Lengthening terms in office would give them more time to try and have the happy byproduct of attracting better candidates. Connecticut remains one of just 14 states in which legislators serve two-year terms regardless of chamber or point in the election cycle. A total of 27 other states allow Senators to serve four-year terms to end at least a bit of the campaign rat race. Connecticut should do the same.
• Term limits — Changing the status quo in the legislature requires sending new people to the legislature. Term limits would revive the concept of “rotation in office,” in which individuals move in and out of the legislature on a regular basis.
One major challenge to attracting high quality candidates into public service is the uncertainty of the time commitment. Every year, people that would be terrific legislators eschew the opportunity because of the uncertain hours, long periods of absence from work and family obligations, and other concerns. Adopting these reforms would make it easier to attract better candidates and, in turn, produce better legislators.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com