House gets it (mostly) right on introduction of HB 2817

March 8, 2012

Lawmakers in the House this week helped put to doubt the claim that "title only" bills are indispensable to the legislative process. We've been told that lawmakers have to use "title only" bills (a.k.a. blank bills) due to the restriction in Article 2, Section 36 of the state Constitution on introduction of new bills with less than 10 days to go in session unless two-thirds of lawmakers vote to hear the bill.

To circumvent this constitutional restriction, lawmakers resort to introducing "title only" bills before this cutoff date. A bill introduced on March 5, however, as a complete bill is now on the House floor for consideration showing that lawmakers can function without title only bills.

On March 5 HB 2817 (repeal I-728) was introduced with full text. The bill was heard in a public hearing (on the text actually introduced) yesterday and the Rules Committee relieved the Ways and Means Committee of further consideration last night placing the bill on the House floor for action today. Under Article 2, Section 36, this will require a 2/3 vote of members to hear the bill.

While this is a positive development, unfortunately the March 7 public hearing on HB 2817 was scheduled with less than 24hrs public notice. But at this point I'll take progress on legislative transparency where I can get it.

Since a special session to conclude work on the budget is a certainty, my hope is that lawmakers will also consider during the special session SB 5419 introduced last year to improve legislative transparency.

The Senate Government Operations Committee heard public testimony on SB 5419 last year but didn't take action on the bill. The State Auditor and the Attorney General's Office were among those signing in support of the proposal. Due to the length of the testimony on a different bill, public comment was limited to one minute on SB 5419. Here is the brief video of the three individuals that testified (myself included): 

As mentioned during the public testimony, SB 5419 is a great start but there are three simple changes that could be made to help provide additional transparency and access for the public to participate in the legislative process:

  • Extend the transparency protections to all bills and not just budget or tax/fee bills. While providing the protections for budget and tax/fee bills is a great first step, other bills (such as the Governor’s various restructuring proposals) propose major changes to the operations of state government and/or the laws that impact citizens and should also be subject to greater transparency.
  • Extend the notification process for public hearings from 24 hrs to 72 hrs. The legislature’s rules for 5 day notice are second to none across the country but are too easily waived. The public and lawmakers would be well served by having at least three days to review the details of bills scheduled for public comment. This would also help facilitate broader participation by citizens from across the state as well as those who need to schedule time off work to come to Olympia as mentioned last year by the testimony of Colin Hastings, then Vice President of the Tri-Cities Chamber. 
  • Extend the time out period before initial floor action from 24 hrs to 48 hrs. This will allow lawmakers adequate time to review the bills being recommended by the rules committee and prepare amendments for consideration by the full body. The 24 hrs before for final passage is sufficient and mirrors the requirements of other states.

Though we’d still prefer constitutional protections that also address title only bills (as endorsed by the State Auditor and Attorney General) at least statutory transparency protections will be a step in the right direction.

Perhaps the following could be required: 72hrs public hearing notification, a 48hr timeout before floor action (time for members to read and prepare amendments) and then a 24hr timeout before final passage (time to read and review amended proposals).

Based on the floor speeches by various Senators during last Friday's budget debate, I'm hopeful that support is growing for this type of common-sense legislative transparency reform.