The end of a legislative session gives us, the voters, a chance to evaluate what we hath wrought for ourselves through those we have chosen to represent us. Sometimes what we hath wrought is writ in numbers that are Practical (as opposed to theoretical) Political Science 101. Lend ear and eye to today’s lesson that begins with statistics.
The Senate Information Office gives out a summary of the legislative session minutes after adjournment each May, a series of numbers that probably wouldn’t mean much to Mr. or Mrs. Joe Missouri if they got these numbers in their mailboxes. However, let’s spend some time thinking about those numbers and what they might tell us. The numbers are only part of the story of about seventy days of a legislative session, of course.
What passed and what didn’t pass is the real measure of a session and the motivations of its participants. Senator Emory Melton once told your observer that passing legislation is only part of the job. Defeating legislation is as important. Capitol Press Corps members exhaust themselves each year telling that part of the story. They have to believe that readers, listeners, and viewers care enough to pay attention to their stories. There are times when fatigue is so heavy that only that belief keeps them going.
Two-thousand-forty bills were introduced this year (1,457 of them in the House). The Senate passed 113 of its 583 bills. Twenty-five of them were consent bills, non-controversial measures. That leaves 88 bills that faced confrontational debate, that faced efforts to amend them, and passed with recorded votes of the Senators. Those 88 bills represent only fifteen percent of all bill introduced in the Senate. Of those eighty-eight, only 57 were approved by the House and sent to the Governor for signature or veto.
The Senate received 254 of the 1,457 House bills. Of that 254, sixteen were appropriations bills. Passing a state budget is one of only two responsibilities the legislature has each year. Actually, its responsibility is even less than that. It is charged with paying the state’s debts and setting aside money for public schools. But the legislature could have gone home after providing the money to keep state services flowing to Missourians. Eighty-one of the 254 surviving House bills were approved by the Senate and sent to the Governor.
Of the 2,040 bills introduced, only 138 made it all the way through the session. That’s only 6.8 percent.
But there’s more.
Twenty-eight proposed constitutional amendments were introduced in the Senate, 59 more in the House. Of those 87 proposed changes to the state constitution, only one got final approval.
So, as we interpret the Senate Information Office scoresheet, 139 of 2,127 measures introduced were able to get majority votes in both chambers, 6.5%.
The raw figures are a little deceiving because (a) several bills were identical and (b) several bills passed were combinations of several different bills. But still, the number of issues that got overall legislative approval is quite small.
Some will look at that final number and think the legislature has wasted a lot of time and money. While there might be a certain amount of truth in that suggestion (why the House and the Senate each have their own information offices AND partisan information staffs for each party always struck us as an extravagance), the numbers speak of the legislative process.
Sometimes the title of a final version of a bill is an indication of the difficult path legislation follows. Here’s a pretty extreme example: CCR#2 SS/SCS/HS/HCS/HBs 3021, 2979, and 3054 with SA1, SA2, SA5, SA6.
Theoretical House Bill 3021 went through a committee hearing. Other bills had identical wording and also were heard. Several amendments were offered, leading the committee to combine the amendments and the identical bills into a new House Committee Substitute for 3021 and the other two proposals. During floor debate, several more amendments were added so the sponsor introduced a new substitute on the House floor incorporating all of the amendments to make the bill a cleaner proposal for the Senate to consider. A similar process happened in the Senate, where a committee combined several committee amendments into a Senate Committee substitute bill that picked up more amendments during debate, leading the floor handler to incorporate the changes into a single clean Senate Substitute that was approved with even more amendments, at least four of the six (actually there had been eight) that were offered being adopted.
The changed bill went back to the House where the sponsor wasn’t sure of the acceptability of the Senate changes so he asked for the formation of a conference committee made up of four members of the House and four members of the Senate to consider the changes and recommend a final version it thought would be acceptable to both chambers. In this case, the first conference committee report faced enough uncertainty that it was sent back for another review and a second report indicated the amended Senate substitute was, indeed, acceptable. Since the bill originated in the House, it had to be approved there first before the final version was approved by the Senate and sent to the Governor for his consideration.
Not all bills go through that gauntlet but creating the laws that will govern six-plus million people in Missouri every second of every day can be a painstaking process. Yes, there are times when even more pains need to be taken to get it right, but most of the time the process works. And yes, sometimes the process works better for some Missourians than for others and, yes, more could be done if less time was spent on fighting over issues that pander to one voting bloc or another. But it is all part of a process that gives elected humanity equal opportunities to display its worst nature as well as its best. And in the end, voters have a chance to display their worst and best natures and their decisions are reflected in the way the process functions.
In a competition of ideas, ideals, agendas, and ideologies, the gauntlet bills must run is exacting and highly competitive. We’ve commented from time to time that it is a miracle that anything is accomplished.
Watching that process or being part of that process is an absorbing thing that draws you in and won’t let you go. And then the gavel falls at 6 p.m. on a Friday evening and the numbers are added up and the pressure goes away and the process has more or less worked again.