By Jerry Kopel
What a mess! This column is "inside the beltway". It deals with the inability of legislators to STOP, and the inability of leadership to say NO.
I compared the legislative record on bills, House and Senate Resolutions, House and Senate Joint Resolutions for 1992-94 with 2002-04. We had the same number of legislators ten years ago as now. The sessions were the same length then as now. But the ability to stop churning out bills and resolutions was stronger in 1992-94.
For those who are not among the initiated:
(1) A bill is just what it implies, a measure that has to pass the House and Senate and be sent to the governor for approval or veto.
(2) A joint resolution has no force or effect of law. It must be passed by both the House and Senate, but doesn't go to the governor. It can deal with any subject under the sun, although it does affect the legislature when the joint resolution deals with rules or procedures of the legislature.
(3) A resolution doesn't go to the other house or to the governor.
A good thing about resolutions is that those which pass this year are printed in the 2004 session laws, but are never heard from again. However, the chance for a member of the minority party to get a resolution passed is much greater than getting a bill passed. It's sort of like serving you broccoli when you would rather have apple pie.
This column is as of the end of the day April 15, 2004, three weeks before the session ends. Obviously, final results for 2004 will be worse than shown at April 15, 2004.
Here is 1992-94 compared to 2002-04:
92 20 10
93 8 14
94 8 14
02 16 19
03 22 20
04 16 6
92 40 20
93 44 35
94 67 40
02 82 46
03 74 50
04 85 51
92 368 218
93 356 261
94 369 225
02 478 236
03 382 354
04 439 239
If the legislature had ended on April 15, 2004, there would have been 331 more bills during 2002-2004, 25 more House and Senate Resolutions, and 132 more House and Senate Joint Resolutions than in 1992-94.
Of course some resolutions are necessary for conducting House and Senate business, and they are the same as those needed in 1992-04. But the number of days, weeks, months, and years being celebrated, the number of heroes honored has grown. Almost all are innocuous and could probably be passed by an "is there any objection" motion immediately after the resolution is read.
The number of federal issues being debated on the House and Senate floor is greater than in 1992-04 and sometimes takes away time from normal legislative duties. You may get a thank you letter from someone in Congress. You may even have the resolution printed in the Congressional Record. But in my opinion based on 22 years experience, your resolution has no effect on how Congress votes.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)
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