State lawmakers have about six months to consider a wise piece of legislation that will be introduced when they go into their annual legislative session in January.
Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, wants an end to a parliamentary trick used to get around the state constitution and the glare of public scrutiny. Walsh is calling for an end to the use of title-only bills.
The state constitution prohibits the Legislature from introducing a bill with fewer than 10 days before the end of a legislative session. This stipulation was imposed so that lawmakers couldn’t rush something into law without the public’s knowledge or the ability to comment.
To circumvent this requirement, legislators use the title-only-bill gambit — essentially filing bills that are blank pages that can be filled just before the Legislature adjourns.
We’ve been railing about this abuse of power for many years. It’s time to make another run at stopping the practice as it was used several times this year. Twenty-six title-only bills were introduced this year, with four gaining approval and becoming law.
For example, lawmakers used a title-only bill as the vehicle to push through a tax increase on big banks in the final hours of the legislative session.
Our beef isn’t necessarily with the specifics of the tax — which might well be reasonable — but that the pros and cons were not fully debated in public. It feels like the public was duped.
“It’s urgent we do something to restrict the use of this parliamentary trick. Title-only bills are essentially blank pieces of paper amended with text later. They cut the public out of the legislative process: No hearings, no debate and no chance for the people’s voice to be heard,” Walsh said. “Last session, a couple of substantial tax increases were passed under the shady cover of these so-called ‘ghost bills.’ That’s wrong. I’m committed to seeing this abuse of our system come to an end.”
Good for him.
The abuse of the title-only bill has been bipartisan over the years. It’s a go-to ploy for the party in power when they want some political cover for controversial things such as taxes.
At this point, majority Democrats — just like Republicans when they had the majority — aren’t particularly motived to remove the title-only rule.
Yet, they might regret that when the political tide turns against them, as eventually happens.
Walsh’s proposal, aside from banning title-only bills, includes a requirement that committee of the Legislature can’t hold a public hearing on a bill unless the bill has been publicly introduced at least 72 hours before the public hearing.
This is exactly the kind of transparency the Legislature needs. Walsh’s effort should be embraced.