Friday, July 31, 2009

It’s just a bill – 167,000 of ’em

The fine people at StateNet recently sent me a copy of the 2010 state legislative sessions calendar. To most folks that probably doesn’t mean a whole mess of a lot. But to those of us who enjoy keeping track of what’s going on at statehouses, it is kind of like Christmas in late July.

Checking out the calendar is a good excuse to crack open a nice carbonated beverage, find online the ol’ Schoolhouse Rock tune “How a Bill Becomes a Law” to set the mood, and kick back and study exactly when and for how long I’m going to need to keep my eye on activities in places from Carson City to Concord.

Some of the information provided is jaw-dropping. Honestly. What jumped out at me are the 167,000 bills that are estimated to be brought up for consideration. A number that is even more astounding after taking into consideration that six states (Arkansas, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon and Texas) don’t even meet for regular sessions next year.

The states that are expected to be churning out the highest volume of proposals are New Jersey with 6,400; Tennessee with 5,400; Illinois with 5,000; and New York with 4,400. The foursome accounts for nearly 13 percent of the bills for all statehouses.

The states that treat paper like premium parchment are Wyoming with an estimated 300 bills expected to be offered, Alaska with 400, Maine with 450, and Delaware with 550.

No real surprise that states with heavy populations have a tendency to produce the biggest stacks of legislation while less populated states typically have shorter piles.

Other notables:

Hawaii is estimated to offer 3,800 bills – more bills than Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio and Wisconsin are expected to offer combined.

Puerto Rico is expected to consider more bills than any state except New Jersey. The U.S. territory is estimated to offer 6,000 bills.

While in session for only one month, New Mexico lawmakers are expected to roll out a whopping 1,650 bills. On the other hand, Wyoming lawmakers are estimated to introduce 300 bills during their one-month session.

With all this legislation and the time and money (oh no, we cannot forget the greenbacks involved), you have to wonder how much change we’ll notice by the time StateNet sends out its 2011 calendar.

It got me to thinking about the money taxpayers shell out to have lawmakers putting in all the time to offer so much legislation, and often with limited results.

I came across some information published recently in the Houston Chronicle that shows the annual cost for legislative sessions in four of the most populated states. California leads the way with a $244 million price tag to run the show in Sacramento. In New York, it costs $209 million; Florida’s expenses are $186 million while Texas comes in at $171 million.

That’s $810 million with only four states accounted for. I cannot think of a better reason than our own pocketbooks to make sure we keep the lines of communication open with our elected officials.