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52% opted to donate to state parks in September

October 22, 2009 in Blog

Earlier this month the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission announced motorists had contributed $1.4 million to state parks by opting to donate $5 on their vehicle license renewals. As explained by State Parks:

In the new donation program, vehicle owners’ license tab renewal notices have an automatic $5 donation added to the total due. Those who do not wish to make the donation simply subtract it from the total due, as outlined on state Department of Licensing renewal notices and payment coupons.

The Legislature projected that State Parks would need $28 million in donations over the two-year budget period starting July 1, to make its budget and keep state parks open. The program started with September renewals, leaving only 22 collection months instead of!
24. Because of this, the agency needs to collect an average of $1.25 million each month over two years to meet its budget. The September 30 total includes donations that were made in July and August – from people who paid their September renewals early and from some who made donations under the preceding donation program.

Thanks to the number crunchers at the Department of Licensing we now can see the raw numbers of those contributing through their vehicle renewals to state parks (link shows County numbers by month).

Parks Fee Donations - State Total

Month 2009

Number of donations

Pool of eligible vehicles

Percent opting to donate

January

8,134

406,466

2.0%

February

7,219

379,520

1.9%

March

11,667

481,693

2.4%

April

14,174

467,157

3.0%

May

16,427

489,211

3.4%

June

18,649

551,772

3.4%

July

16,040

488,398

3.3%

August

92,900

428,940

21.7%

September

213,905

408,703

52.3%

Total

399,115

4,101,860

9.7%

Despite the dramatic increase in the number of motorists contributing to state parks, the new opt-out provision has not been without controversy.

In fact, whether opt-in or opt-out, it is difficult to see the nexus
between motor vehicles and fees for state parks. Perhaps some of these
proposals for park funding should be considered instead: Securing the Future of Washington's State Parks

DOR publishes report comparing Washington's state and local tax ranking

October 22, 2009 in Blog

The Department of Revenue (DOR) today published an updated comparison of state and local tax rankings. According to DOR's press
release:

Washington ranks 26th highest nationally in state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income, and 32nd highest in property taxes, according to newly released federal data covering Fiscal Year 2007.

Washingtonians paid $109.25 in state and local taxes per $1,000 of personal income, compared to a national average of $113.32. Of that, $29.25 went to property taxes, compared to a national average of $34.04.

Washington ranked 15th in state and local taxes per capita at $4,269, $35 more than the national average of $4,234. Washington ranked 27th per capita in property taxes at $1,143, $129 less than the national average of $1,272.

The FY 2007 figures do not reflect the current downturn in the economy, which largely won’t show up until the Fiscal Year 2009 information is available for all states.

The Department’s annual report, Comparative State/Local Taxes, is ba!
sed on data published by the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis. The full report is available here

Here are a couple of tables of note from the report:

State Auditor reviews Commerce's fee use

October 21, 2009 in Blog

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) held a public hearing this morning to discuss the State Auditor's performance audit of the Department of Commerce's use of fees. The performance audit found:

  • Commerce does not follow best practices to identify programs that could charge fees, which could provide the state with additional revenue.
  • Some user fees are not established in accordance with state law and others are not accounted for or used in accordance with state law.
  • Commerce could reduce general fund spending by between $2.2 million and $2.4 million or more over five years if fees were charged for four programs.

Among the audit recommendations was the need for Commerce to use best practices identified by the U.S. Government Accountability Office to determine which government activities should be funded with user fees. Those best practices are:

  • Ensure programs benefit identifiable users
  • It is administratively practical to charge a fee
  • The users have the ability to pay
  • The program is not based on need or merit
  • No other program considerations cause fees to be inappropriate

As noted by the State Auditor, all of these best practices can be used by other agencies.

Here is the video of Commerce's testimony today responding to the audit:

The new fee policy Commerce is developing in response to the performance audit could serve as a good model for other agencies. Especially against the backdrop of the current budget situation, the state should have a fee policy based on best practices in place to help determine which services can be switched from general fund support to a direct user-fee model.

In other news, the State Auditor's Office announced last week its performance audit program has passed its first peer review. Here are the details:

"The State Auditor's Office performance audit program passed its first peer review since t!
he program, authorized by Initiative 900 in November 2005, began.

The performance audit program received the highest level of assurance that an external review team can give on a system of audit quality control.

The review was conducted under the auspices of the National State Auditors Association (NSAA) in conjunction with the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers (NASACT).

The letter from the peer review team is available here."

GAO: Nation's long-term fiscal outlook remains unsustainable

October 15, 2009 in Blog

The U.S. Government Accountability Office today released its Fall update on The Federal Government's Long-Term Fiscal Outlook. The prognosis is grim unless our elected officials in D.C. take action soon. From the report:

Weaknesses in the economy and financial markets—and the government’s response to them—have contributed to near-term increases in federal deficits, which reached a record level in fiscal year 2009. While a lot of attention has been given to the recent fiscal deterioration, the federal government faces even larger fiscal challenges that will persist long after the return of financial stability and economic growth. GAO’s simulations continue to show escalating levels of debt that illustrate that the long-term fiscal outlook remains unsustainable. In little over 10 years, debt held by the public as a percent of GDP un!
der our Alternative simulation is projected to exceed the historical high reached in the aftermath of World War II and grow at a steady rate thereafter . . .

Another way to measure the long-term fiscal challenge is the fiscal gap. The fiscal gap is the size of action needed—in terms of tax increases, spending reductions, or some combination of the two—for debt as a share of GDP to equal today’s ratio at the end of a certain period, such as 75 years. For example, under our Alternative simulation, the fiscal gap is 8.5 percent of GDP (or more than $62 trillion in present value dollars). This means that revenue would have to increase by about 47 percent or noninterest spending would have to be reduced by 33 percent on average over the next 75 years to keep debt at the end of the period from exceeding its level at the beginning of 2009 (40.8 percent of GDP).

Policymakers could phase in the policy changes so that the tax increases or spending cuts wou!
ld grow over time and allow people to adjust. However, the lon!
ger action to deal with the nation’s long-term fiscal outlook is delayed, the greater the risk that the eventual changes will be disruptive and destabilizing. Under our Alternative simulation, waiting even 10 years would require a revenue increase of about 58 percent, a noninterest spending cut of about 39 percent, or some combination of the two.

Perhaps it is time to bring back consideration of a federal balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

9th Circuit Court of Appeals orders release of R-71 petitions

October 15, 2009 in Blog

The Ninth Circuit Federal Appeals Court has ruled for Secretary of State Sam Reed in the dispute whether or not to release the R-71 petitions in response to a public records request. Here is the Court's order

The court, after consideration of the record and briefs of the parties, and oral argument, has determined that the district court’s Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction (the “Preliminary Injunction Order”), filed September 10, 2009, relies on an incorrect legal standard and, therefore, must be reversed.

It is therefore ordered:

1. Appellants’ motion for a stay pending ap!
peal is granted and the Preliminary Injunction Order is hereby stayed, effective immediately, pending final resolution of these appeals.

2. An opinion setting forth the reasons for the court’s reversal of the Preliminary Injunction Order shall be issued expeditiously and in due course.

This decision should mean there will be quick resolution to yesterday's ruling in Thurston County Superior Court granting a temporary restraining order against Sam Reed concerning compliance with a public records request for copies of past initiative petitions.

Supreme Court rules judiciary not subject to public records act

October 15, 2009 in Blog

In a 7-2 ruling this morning (includes one concurring opinion), the state Supreme Court declared that judicial records are not subject to disclosure under the public records act. Writing for the majority, Justice Susan Owens said:

This court previously held that the PRA does not apply to the judiciary and the legislature acquiesced to that decision by not modifying the PRA. We see no reason to violate the doctrine of stare decisis here. The trial court correctly held that the PRA does not require the City to release the judicial records requested by Koenig, and we affirm.

Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and Justice Debra Stephens dissented saying:

="blockquote" style="margin-left: 40px;">In the end, I believe we do a disservice to interpret the PRA, a broad mandate for open government, to exempt entirely the judicial branch of government. Nast is not stare decisis on this question, and courts plainly meet the statutory definition of “agency” in RCW 42.56.010. It seems to me the PRA speaks for itself:
The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created. This chapter shall be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed to promote this public policy and to assure that the public interest will be fully protected. In the event o!
f conflict between the provisions of this chapter and any othe!
r act, the provisions of this chapter shall govern.

Based on today's decision it is now up to the Legislature to overturn this court carved exemption from open government and amend the law to explicitly say the third branch of government (judiciary) is subject to the same disclosure requirements as the other two (executive and legislative).

Sunshine Committee recommends sunset review for new records exemptions

October 13, 2009 in Blog

The state Sunshine Committee this morning unanimously adopted a recommendation that any new exemptions from public disclosure undergo a sunset review. Here is the recommendation as adopted by the Committee:

The Committee makes the following recommendations for new legislation:
1. The Legislature incorporate all existing and further exemptions into the Public Records Act by express reference.

2. The Legislature limit all future exemptions to a term of five years and be that such exemptions be examined by JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee), the Sunshine Committee, or other competent body, a year prior to their expiration on a case by case basis to determine if they merit reauthorization or should be eliminated or revised.

The recommend!
ation adopted was an amended version of this proposal first introduced on May 12:

Be it Resolved that it is the sense of this committee that all
exemptions to the Public Records Act and any statutory basis to
withhold information or records be eliminated after two years unless
specifically reauthorized by the Legislature with the exception of
those ten included in the original legislation; and that the
Legislature examine all of the eliminated exemptions individually, and
Further, that all future exemptions be limited to a term of two years
and be examined by the Legislature upon their expiration on a case by
case basis to determine if they merit reauthorization or should be
eliminated or revised.

The Committee also discussed the other recommendations from its draft report to the Legislature. Those recommendations concern:

Here is the full agenda for today's Sunshine Committee meeting.

Treasurer worries about state's credit rating

October 8, 2009 in Blog

Earlier this year State Treasurer James McIntire highlighted the state's strong credit ratings. Now, however, he is worried the state may have to pay millions more to borrow money. According to the Seattle PI:

Tim Eyman's initiative that would limit government spending could hurt Washington's credit rating, which would cost the state tens of millions of dollars, state Treasurer James McIntire says . . . McIntire said credit ratings consider numerous factors, including initiatives like Eyman's.

"They want to know how your economy is doing, they want to how your revenues are doing, they want to know what your balance sheet looks like...and they ask about things like initiatives," he said in an interview. "Any!
thing that restricts taxes or spending, that's going to have a long-term structural impact to come to resolution about financial management, is something that they worry about."

Credit raters like Moody's say "Voter initiative activity adds element of fiscal uncertainty,” and is a challenge for the state, but the adoption of a tax or spending restriction did not make Moody's list of things that would reduce the state's credit rating. According to Moody's July 10 report on Washington's credit outlook:

What would change the rating - UP
  • Sustained trend of structural budget balance, plus restoration and maintenance of strong reserve levels.
  • Economic expansion and improved industry diversification.
  • Reduction of debt ratios to levels closer to Moody's 50-state medians.

What could change the rating - DOWN

  • Deeper and longer recession that restrains consumer confidence, leading to prolonged revenue weakness and employment erosion.
  • Protracted structural budget imbalance.
  • Increased reliance on one-time budget solutions.
  • Cash flow narrowing, leading to strained liquidity.
  • Failure to adopt plan to cover expenditures once federal fiscal stimulus monies are no longer available.

Perhaps the reason adoption of a tax or spending restriction didn't make the list is the fact Washington already has both. In fact, the state's credit rating didn't drop after passage of I-601 (tax and spending restriction) in 1993 or I-960 (tax restriction) in 2007.

Based on the criteria described by Moody's, it looks like the biggest devil for the state’s credit rating will be whether or not the state lays out a plan for balancing the budget once the federal bailout funds are gone and stops resorting to one-time fixes. 

Additional Information
Summary of state's credit history (provided by Office of State Treasurer)

State Auditor & Attorney General: We need a better way to enforce open government laws

October 5, 2009 in Blog

The Open Government Task Force created by State Auditor Brian Sonntag and Attorney General Rob McKenna met this morning to discuss alternative ways to enforce the state's open government laws. Currently the only option available to citizens is to file a lawsuit if they disagree with an agency's opinion on whether a record should be disclosed.

Opening the meeting State Auditor Brian Sonntag noted there has to be a better way for citizens to access government records without having to resort to lawsuits. Attorney General Rob McKenna agreed highlighting the fact that every other area of law has an administrative mechanism for addressing concerns. The reason is administrative mechanisms are faster and more cost effective than relying solely on court relief. Unfortunately, Washington lacks this type of recourse!
for enforcement of the state’s open government laws.

The Task Force's heavy hitters (including House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, Rep. Chris Hurst, Rep. Joel Kretz, and Sen. Bob Morton) heard a presentation from Terry Mutchler, Executive Director of Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records. Mutchler described how Pennsylvania's administrative process works for citizens and agencies to resolve public records dispute.

The administrative review processes in other states was also discussed at the meeting. Working with the Attorney General's Office I reviewed the public records laws in the states with administrative options for citizens and created this handout for the Task Force.

!
Here is a sampling of how enforcement of open government laws !
works in those states:

  • Kentucky - Attorney General review of records dispute and subsequent opinion has the full force and effect of law.
  • Nebraska - If an agency ignores the opinion of the Attorney General that a record should be disclosed, the Attorney General must sue the agency on behalf of the citizen if requested.
  • New Jersey - Government Records Council offers mediation services to resolve records disputes.
  • North Dakota - If an agency ignores the opinion of the Attorney General that a record should be disclosed, the agency or public official is personally liable.

Next up for the Open Government Task Force is working on a draft report laying out its recommendations for the Legislature to consider next session.

Governor wants agencies to focus on core missions

October 2, 2009 in Blog

The House State Government committee held a work session today focused on how to improve agency efficiency. Rep. Sam Hunt, Chair of the committee, opened the meeting by asking, "What do we do to make government more efficient?"

One of the solutions provided by the Governor's Office is for agencies to spend more time on their core missions versus "back office" activities. Here is the info from one of the Governor's handouts:

Governor Gregoire wants state government to meet the demands of the 21st century economy. One key to success is for state agencies to focus on their core missions.
  • Reduce the size of government
  • Provide 21st century customer service
  • Streamline agencies and operations to get best value for cost

The goal is to better serve the public with a more nimble and efficient government. The public will continue to receive service from the experts in the field, and departments will receive the same: business services from the agency expert in the field. It’s the old example: why should the head of DSHS have to be a real estate guru as well as a social services expert?

We will align our systems to achieve economies of scale and improve efficiency across the spectrum of government.

This is a matter of aligning programs and positions, not judging the people in them. The driving force behind this is maximizing limited resources. The work people in central service fields do is valuable and needed. State agencies must have email to function. The question is whether an agency should be running its own email system when taxpayers are also funding a Department of Information Services.

We know it will be hard. Change when resources are scarce is diffi!
cult. We know savings may not be instant, and the steps have to be incremental. But difficulty is not an excuse for the status quo. Constant improvement is a hallmark of successful organizations.

We are committed to it. The governor has made this a priority, and so has the cabinet. We’re accepting the challenge and expect to meet it.

Also discussed was the joint effort between the State Auditor and the Governor to review ways to improve agency efficiency.

Here are additional details on the State Auditor's effort and the Governor!
9;s reform goals

DOR: Three Million State Residents May Have Unclaimed Property

October 2, 2009 in Blog

In need of extra cash? The state is holding $700 million in unclaimed property - some of which may be yours. According to the Department of Revenue:

Three million current or former Washington residents have a stake in $700 million in unclaimed property being held by the Washington State Department of Revenue. You may be one of them.

Their names are listed in the Department’s searchable online database, http://claimyourcash.org, as having unclaimed property turned over to the state by businesses, generally after they have had no contact with the holder for three years.

Unclaimed property includes items such as uncashed paychecks, rent and utility deposits, refunds, escrow funds, dormant bank accounts, stocks and bonds and even the contents of safe deposit boxes.

The Department mails claim forms to the last-known addresses of potential claimants after they receive the property, but oft!
en the individuals have moved and no forwarding address is available.

During Fiscal Year 2009, the Department returned $45 million to 88,000 claimants, yet the number of people with potential claims continues to grow.

Revenue Director Cindi Holmstrom said the odds of someone finding unclaimed property have grown steadily over the years, are now literally 50-50, as the Department continues its efforts to educate businesses on the legal requirements to turn over unclaimed property.

“We’ve made it as easy and simple as possible for people to search for and claim their property,” Holmstrom said. “Our goal is to return as much of this property as possible to the rightful owners.”

Click here to see if the state is holding your unclaimed property.

Open Government Task Force Meeting October 5

October 2, 2009 in Blog

The Open Government Task Force created by State Auditor Brian Sonntag and Attorney General Rob McKenna will hold the first of two meetings on October 5. According to the Task Force's website:

The purpose of the Open Government Task Force is to study and make recommendations on the creation of an administrative board to rule on complaints of violations regarding the Public Records Act (PRA) and the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

The Attorney General's Office and the Auditor's Office created this Task Force to address growing concerns among governments and the public. State agencies and local governments face a logjam of citizen complaints, costly litigation over the PRA and the OPMA, and uncertainty regarding potential liability that may require payment of attorneys’ fees, costs, and daily penalties. Citizens w!
ho are denied access to public records and public meetings have no choice other than to go to court, and lawsuits may take years to resolve and are costly. Going to court to enforce legal rights to access public records and public meetings is simply not an option for many citizens.

An efficient and inexpensive solution is needed to resolve complaints and provide greater access to public records and public meetings while reducing costs to governmental agencies and the public. Many states provide an independent administrative review process to resolve complaints without litigation. These states use administrative boards to offer services including mediation, dispute resolution, non-binding legal interpretations, investigation of potential violations, issuing final appealable rulings, offerings of legislative reform, and training public officials about their responsibilities under the law.

Here is the agenda and handouts for Monday's meeting. The meeting is open to the public and will be held from 9 am to 1 pm in the Senate Rules Room.

Ways & Means budget handouts

October 1, 2009 in Blog

The House and Senate Ways and Means committees met today to discuss the state budget. Among the many interesting presentations was the Senate update on the state budget outlook and the House comparison of state budget processes. Below are some of the details of note.

Senate Ways & Means: Operating Budget Update

  • Based on current forecasts and information, there has been a $1.8 billion negative change in the anticipated fiscal situation. As a result, anticipated reserves have gone negative.
  • Based on the current revenue forecast, annual revenue is expected to be at 2006 levels for both FY 2009 and FY 2010.

Senate Ways & Means: Washington State Economic & Revenue Outlook

  • It is almost certain that the recession in both the national and state economies is now over.
  • The recovery is still fragile, and risks remain.
  • State revenues will lag the economic recovery.
  • The recovery in revenues will be slow and is subject to risk.
  • Collections in FY 11 are expected to be USD 300 million less than in FY 08.
  • Revenues in the 2009-11 biennium are expected to be 1% below their 2007-09 level

House Ways & Means: Overview of State Approaches to the Operating Budget Process

  • Minimum time the legislature must review a budget before a vote - About 13 states have some sort of minimum review period for budget bills (that is different than policy bills). Most requirements focus on the budget bill being available for a certain amount of time before floor debate or final passage. (For instance, Florida is 72 hours, Georgia is 24 hours in the House, Hawaii is 48 hours, Michigan is 5 days in the House, New Hampshire is 2 days in the House and 24 hours in the Senate, Rhode Island is 10 days in the House, South Carolina is 3 days in the House, and Texas is 48 hours in the Senate. Utah requires appropriation bills be provided to legislators by the 43rd day of session.)
  • Original budget submittal must be balanced - Nearly all states require the original budget proposal to be balanced. In Washington, the Governor is statutorily required to submit a balanced budget proposal.
  • Legislature must pass a balanced budget - At least three-quarters of the states require that the legislature enact a balance budget. Washington is not one of these; however, if the Governor determines that a deficit will occur because enacted appropriations will exceed projected revenues and the beginning fund balance, the Governor is required to order across the board reductions to bring the budget in balance.
  •  A deficit cannot cross fiscal years or biennia - Three-quarters of states, including Washington, prohibit deficits from carrying over into future budget periods.

Colorado economics professor defends I-1033

September 30, 2009 in Blog

With the Initiative 1033 debate focusing on the impact of a similar law in Colorado, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), one of TABOR's biggest supporters is coming to the defense of I-1033. Dr. Barry Poulson, Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wrote an article for the Bellingham Herald this week countering the attacks opponents of I-1033 have made against TABOR.

According to Dr. Poulson:

Opponents of Washington's Initiative 1033 are woefully uninformed about the Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) passed by voters in 1992. Critics of Washington's ballot measure say I-1033 !
is similar to our TABOR, which they claim is a disaster for our state. Nothing could be further from the truth . . .

The TABOR Amendment has worked much the way it was intended, allowing Colorado citizens to decide how much government they want and are willing to pay for. If any jurisdiction wants to spend surplus revenue, or increase taxes or debt, it must have voter approval.

Many statewide ballot measures have been presented to Colorado voters since TABOR was enacted. Two of the six ballot measures seeking approval to spend surplus revenue were passed, and four were defeated. Eight ballot measures proposing tax increases were introduced, but only one of these measures passed. Of the four property tax measures introduced, two providing property tax relief to specific groups passed; two measures proposing property tax increases were defeated.

At the local level, however, many more spending or tax increases have been approved, usually becau!
se they were tied to specific local government programs to whi!
ch the voters decided to give extra funds.

Critics often argue that TABOR forced the state to cut spending. The empirical record for state spending in Colorado refutes this claim. In contrast to California, state spending in Colorado has grown at roughly the rate in the private economy. From 1993 to 2007 real per capita state spending grew 28 percent, while per capita GDP grew 30 percent.

With an effective tax and spending limit in place Colorado has been able to lower tax burdens, creating one of the best business tax climates in the country. Colorado has attracted more business investment and jobs than most other states. Over the period since TABOR was passed Colorado has experienced one of the highest rates of economic growth in the nation, while California has experienced retardation in economic growth . . .

Polls reveal that Colorado citizens support the TABOR Amendment by a greater majority today than when it was enacted. Citizens supp!
ort each of the TABOR provisions by a large majority: the cap on the growth of revenue and spending; the requirement for voter approval to spend surplus revenue; and the requirement for voter approval to increase taxes and debt.

Despite this success, politicians and special interest groups routinely attack TABOR because it doesn't give them carte blanche authority to tax and spend. Washington residents would be lucky to have our TABOR amendment. It strengthens fiscal rules and policies conducive to economic growth and prosperity, and prevents the kind of fiscal debacle occurring in California.

Speaking of polls, Tim Eyman (sponsor of I-1033) highlighted yesterday a recent poll indicating 61% support for I-1033.

Adding a new wrinkle to the tax and spending debate I-1033 is presenting voters is the announcement by Governor!
Gregoire that she is willing to consider tax increases next year. As r!
eported by The Olympian:

Gov. Chris Gregoire made clear in a meeting with reporters this morning that she is not as hostile to tax hikes as she was a year ago. And she will entertain proposals if lawmakers or interest groups bring them to her.

"I didn't want revenue last year because I couldn't figure out how you could do a revenue package that wouldn't hurt the economy, either individuals or businesses. We're still stuck in that rut but I've told the leadership, 'Come make your case. My door's open, you can make your case.' But I don't want to do anything that adversely impacts our economic recovery," Gregoire said.

It's a clear shift from last December when she discouraged tax proposals. At that time, she said it was the wrong time to put a burden on busi!
nesses and individuals in a recession. But Gregoire said last year's cuts were painful and she doesn't know how another $1 billion can be trimmed.

It is unclear if the Governor would support a suspension of I-960's requirement for tax increases to receive a 2/3 vote of the Legislature to take effect. I-960 can be suspended with a simple majority vote next session.

For additional information on I-1033, check out this debate on KING 5 News Up Front and WPC's review of the measure.

Massachusetts' "emergency preamble" may hold up Kennedy replacement

September 23, 2009 in Blog

It looks like Massachusetts' version of our "emergency clause" may delay the appointment of Sen. Kennedy's replacement. Unlike in Washington, however, the Massachusetts "emergency preamble" requires a 2/3 vote of lawmakers to allow a bill to take effect immediately, rather than the standard 90 days.

According to Fox News:

Paul G. Kirk Jr., the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will replace the late Ted Kennedy in the Senate until a special election is held in January, sources told FOX News.

But a constitutional dispute is delaying final passage of a bill allowing Gov. Deval Patrick to name Kennedy's successor . . . Massachusetts lawmakers are expected Wednesday to give final approval to a change in the Senate succ!
ession law so the governor can temporarily fill Senate vacancies. The interim senator would serve until the seat is filled permanently through a special election on Jan. 19.

Patrick could announce his pick as early as Thursday.

But under the Massachusetts Constitution, laws enacted by the Legislature and signed by the governor become law after 90 days.

For laws to take effect immediately, lawmakers must attach a so-called "emergency preamble," which requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

Republicans, who oppose the bill, say they'll fight any attempt to have the law take effect without an emergency preamble. The bill won initial approval in both chambers, but fell far short of a two-thirds majority.

As explained by a Massachusetts government website:

A bill signed by the govern!
or, or passed by two-thirds of both branches over his veto, be!
comes a law. It is usually effective in ninety days. The day after the governor signs the bill is considered to be the first day, and each succeeding day, including Sundays and holidays is counted until the ninetieth.

Laws considered "emergency" in nature take effect immediately upon signing if the legislature has voted to attach an "emergency preamble" to the bill. Adoption of the preamble requires a two-thirds standing vote of the membership.

Lawmakers in Washington can also declare an emergency and allow a bill to take effect immediately but a 2/3 vote is not required. When an "emergency clause" is used the people are denied their right of referendum on that bill. To provide a check on the Legislature, the state constitution grants the people the power to veto unwanted legislation through the use of a referendum.  According to the Secretary of State, “The referendum allows citizens, through the petition proc!
ess, to refer acts of the Legislature to the ballot before they become law.” This power applies to any bill adopted by the Legislature except those that include an “emergency clause.”

An emergency clause states that a bill is exempt from repeal by referendum because the bill is, “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, support of the state government and its existing public institutions.” The use of the emergency clause allows bills to take effect immediately once signed by the Governor.

The purpose of the emergency clause is to allow state government to respond quickly to true public emergencies, like a large-scale natural disaster or wide-spread epidemic disease.

Yet over the years lawmakers have routinely abused the exemption by attaching emergency clauses to 813 bills since 1997, including 68 b!
ills during the 2009 legislative session.

As is the case in M!
assachusetts, the most effective way to end the Legislature’s abuse of the emergency clause is a constitutional amendment creating a supermajority vote requirement for its use.  The Legislature would then be prohibited from attaching an emergency clause unless the bill was approved by a 60 percent vote.  Budget bills, however, could be made exempt from the supermajority vote requirement, allowing them to pass with a simple majority and not be subject to referendum.

A constitutional amendment (HJR 4205) was introduced last session by Rep. Barbara Bailey, but it did not receive a hearing.