New Title Only bill scheduled for April 1 public hearing

By JASON MERCIER  | 
Mar 29, 2021
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We have our first Title Only bill of the session - HB 1564: Concerning transportation spending. It was introduced on March 28 and has already been scheduled for a public hearing on April 1 (no fooling). This essentially blank bill is sponsored by seven Democratic members of the House Transportation Committee. Based on the limited text, it appears this bill will eventually transform into a major transportation tax increase proposal. Don’t worry though, the sponsors promise the real text will be made available for public review . . . the day before the public hearing.

This is the current complete text of HB 1564:

“NEW SECTION. Sec. 1. Additive transportation funding is hereby adopted and, subject to the provisions set forth, the several amounts specified, or as much thereof as may be necessary to accomplish the purposes designated, are hereby appropriated from the several accounts and funds named to the designated state agencies and offices for employee compensation and other expenses, for capital projects, and for other specified purposes for the period ending June 30, 2023. --- END ---"

So what will the full text eventually look like? Perhaps sponsors plan to build a space port. Or maybe they’ll finally acknowledge the will of the voters and reduce car tabs to $30. Or maybe they plan to propose massive tax increases and provide the public less than a day to chew on the details. The possibilities with a Title Only bill are endless and are a horrible way to propose policies.

A bipartisan bill was proposed on January 19, 2021 to ban the use of Title Only bills but it never received a public hearing. Here is what SB 5283 (Prohibiting the use of title-only bills) said:

“The legislature finds that the use of title-only bills represents a clear circumvention of the legislative process and must be prohibited. The introduction of empty pieces of legislation as placeholders, with substantive content to be filled in later, does not promote legislative transparency or foster public trust. The legislature finds title-only bills have been used as last minute vehicles to advance major policy changes with little-to-no notice to the public or even to the legislators elected to vote on them. Whether intentional or not, such tactics disregard the constitutional restrictions meant to ensure adequate public notice and understanding of legislative action. The legislature therefore intends to prohibit the use of title only bills.

The introduction of title-only bills is prohibited. For purposes of this section, a title-only bill is a legislative bill that does not create new statutory language in addition to the title of the bill or lay forth the full changes to any act or sections of law intended by the bill.”

As was the case for SB 5283, a different proposal in the House to ban Title Only bills also didn’t receive a public hearing this year (HB 1324 - Increasing legislative transparency).

While we wait to see the real text of HB 1564, lawmakers may want to remember what happened the last time they used a Title Only bill to increase taxes. That 2019 bank tax proposal was ruled unconstitutional by trial court and is set to receive oral arguments before the state Supreme Court on May 25, 2021.