Recommendations from The Sometime Governments

In the early 1970s, the Citizens Conference on State Legislatures, predecessor to the National Council of State Legislators, undertook extensive research that yielded “The Sometime Governments,” a ground-breaking report still considered an important reference in any examination of state governments.

The book described the ideal legislature as “FAIIR”: functional, accountable, informed, independent:, representative. General recommendations were offered to all state legislatures, as well as very specific recommendations for individual states.

While some recommended changes would involve changing laws, or the PA Constitution, others could be put in place quickly through changes to procedural rules. Among them:

13. Notice of meetings. The rules should require a minimum notice of five legislative days for committee meetings in hearings, with widely disseminated announcement of schedule, location, agenda and availability of public participation.

14. Act on all bills. Committees should be required to report on all bills assigned to them, recommending for passage by the parent body those bills which enjoy the support of a majority of members of the committee and killing all others.

16. Committee hearings. There is no justification for permitting any major piece of legislation to become law without having been subjected to extensive, thorough, well planned and prepared public hearings, in which representatives of the public, civic organizations, and interest groups are not only invited but encouraged to participate.

17. Committee bill reports. Require committees to issue reports describing and explaining their action on bills recommended for passage at the time the bill moves from the committee to the floor.

35. Amending the rules. A due regard for the rights of the minority, one of the means of ensuring internal accountability, requires stable rules of procedure. Although it is consistent with majority rule to permit the adoption of rules of procedure at the beginning of a term by a majority vote, once adopted the requirement to change the rules should be by a two-thirds vote, as is the case in most legislatures.

38. Establish an automatic calendar of bills. When a bill is favorably reported out of committee to the floor, it should go automatically on to the calendar in the order reported out. It should require a vote of an extraordinary majority to move a bill from its position on the calendar or to bypass it. The rules committee should have no part in the scheduling of bills. No session should adjourn until all bills on calendar have been voted up or down or by the vote of an extraordinary majority, have been removed from the calendar.

40. Quantity of bills introduced. An extraordinarily high number of bill introductions inevitably clogs the entire legislative machinery and should be reduced … . Some states have numeric limits on Bill introduction, many have calendar requirements and deadlines for Bill introduction. [Most chambers (73) have some kind of deadline system for bill introduction. Many also having deadlines for further actions, like committee hearings, and first and second readings. Fewer chambers (21) have limitations on the number of bills a legislator may introduce after some point in time.]

49. Skeleton bills. There should be an explicit rule barring introduction of skeleton or spot bills. This rule should be enforced by the signing authority (the presiding officer or rules committee) by refusal to assign bills so identified to committee.

The Sometime Governments: A Critical Study of the 50 American Legislatures, research by Citizens Conference on State Legislatures, authored by John Burns, 1971

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