NCSL: Most states don't allow "title only" bills

March 24, 2011

This morning the Associated Press highlighted Sen. Murray's introduction of 22 title only bills.

According to the article:

"As state lawmakers push forward into tough budget negotiations, they are proposing a stack of 'title only' bills relating to a wide range of budget issues.

Sen. Ed Murray, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, introduced 22 such bills, which contain only a brief - and often vague - description of what they would do.

The measures proposed by the Seattle Democrat cover a broad scope of budget provisions, relating to everything from 'fiscal matters' and 'state government' to 'criminal justice' and 'higher education.'

Lawmakers say title-only bills provide flexibility while helping them to avoid missing deadlines."

A title only bill is just that - the text is blank except for the title of the bill.

Since lawmakers in other states also need "flexibility" I was curious if they too use title only bills.

My first call was to the Wisconsin Secretary of Senate's office. The response was: "I've heard of those" and no, they aren't allowed in Wisconsin.

Next I checked with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) to see if the practice of title only bills was prevalent across the country.

According to Bruce Feustel of NCSL:

"Most states I am familiar with do not allow title only bills for legislative consideration, generally under the reasoning that you need to know the details of a bill to make an informed decision about how to vote on it and even where to refer it."

This morning I was interviewed by KOMO's John Carlson on the use of title only bills (listen here).

My segment was followed by an interview by Sen. Murray discussing why he introduced the 22 title only bills (listen here).

Murray complained that WPC didn't raise a concern with Republican uses of title only bills in 2003, 1997 and 1991.

That may be because WPC's Center for Government Reform that reviews open government policies was not created until 2007 (Democrats have controlled both bodies of the Legislature since then).

Despite our support for collective bargaining reforms, we have not shied away from highlighting the open government abuses that occurred in Wisconsin recently.

Whether you are for or against a policy, good open government principles should equally apply.

As for title only bills, both Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and Democrat State Auditor Brian Sonntag have called for a ban of their use.

Back to Wisconsin, here is a story about various legislative emails concerning their union controversy. Imagine what details could be gleaned about the inner workings of Olympia if our state lawmaker's emails were subject to public disclosure like those of local government officials.