Friday, May 25, 2007

Powell Leads by Example

We're not entirely sure that it's preferable for legislators to introduce no legislation, but we certainly understand Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV's instinct to buck the practice of introducing bills that are purely symbolic.

The Sun reports this morning that Powell has not been the lead sponsor of a single bill during the last three sessions of the Legislature. Powell argues, "There's much more to being a strong leader than how many insignificant bills you introduce."

Our research from 2004 showed that more bills were introduced in the New York State Legislature between 1997 and 2002 than in any other legislature in the country. Introduction rates have risen across America, but New York has still managed to beat out this general inflation. In 2002, we dwarfed the number introduced in the next highest state, Illinois, by about 100%. The numbers for 2005, our latest year of study, were comparable to those of the previous years.

Compare these to the number of bills actually signed into law, and you get truly dismal enactment rates. The last decade has seen the enactment of less than 5% of all the bills introduced, with slightly better enactment rates for bills originating in the Senate than in the Assembly.

Bill introduction is a way for legislators to show their constituents that they care about an important issue. But this type of credit claiming, if left unchecked, is an extremely inefficient use of resources. We don't have official stats, but Powell declared that each bill introduced "costs thousands of dollars." When legislators are allowed to introduce as many bills as they want, they are distracted from deliberating and negotiating on legislation that has a chance of passing.

Both the Senate and Assembly should amend their rules to limit the number of bills legislators may introduce in one session. We think placing the cap at 20 bills for each Assemblymember and 30 for each Senator would be a good place to start.

1 comment:

shiva said...

Is a cap really a good idea? I think any solution must address the distinction between symbolic legislation, and legislation that is unlikely to pass but is still important to debate.

Absent of voters newly convinced of the futile and wasteful nature of symbolic laws, legislators will still have a large incentive to introduce them. A cap could result in legislators' refusing to waste an introduction on a bill that matters but is unlikely to pass.

I'm all for reducing waste, but I'm not sure the cost of a cap to the democratic process is worth it.