Changes designed to jump start 2017 Legislature

Lawmakers this week reviewed changes to the Legislative process designed to get the 2017 session up and running faster.

The Legislature opens for business February 6 and ends June 5 — 120 calendar days.

There are two big changes to the rules. For the first time, legislators like agencies and others who can request legislation must pre-file some of their bills. Second, not only agencies but lawmakers can no longer put a bill draft on the list until they provide the details of what they want the measure to do.

Previously, lawmakers in particular were famous for filing Bill Draft Requests saying something like “Makes various changes to elections,” without specifying exactly what the proposed law would do until later.

“Now they’ve got to have the details when they request the bill,” said Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Rick Combs.

“One of the ideas behind AB495 (which made that change) was to get more legislation introduced earlier in the session so as to balance our workload throughout the course of the session,” said Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, chairman of the reviewing the plans.

Combs made the same comment, pointing out historically legislative sessions have started slow as committees waited days and even weeks some times to get enough bills to warrant hearings.

To speed the process, agencies must submit details for their bills by August 1, a full month earlier. Returning lawmakers must submit about half of their proposed bills by that date.

All of those bills must be drafted and pre-filed by the third Wednesday in November — November 16 this cycle. In the past, that deadline was only for agencies and was December 20.

Returning Assembly members get 10 BDRs, Senators 2. The executive branch and governor’s office are entitled to submit up to 110 bill requests and the Supreme Court 10. There are also others including study committees who get to add bills to the list. Leadership also has additional BDRs.

Combs and Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes said they are hoping the changes result in up to 500 bills numbered and pre-filed on the first day of the session. That would be about a quarter of the total number of pieces of legislation expected during the session and give committees plenty of work right out of the gate.

“We want to try to move as much of the work to the front end of the session as possible,” said Combs.

Combs told the committee he expects to add about 90 “session hires” — temporary employees — to the 285 member permanent LCB staff during the upcoming session. In 2015, session hires totaled 96.

The largest single group there is the 22 added Legislative Police officers. After that, the Legal Division will add about a dozen to help with the load of actually drafting bills and amendments. Most of them will come on board this fall.

That doesn’t count the secretaries, committee staff and floor staff the Assembly Chief Clerk and Senate Secretary hire each session. Those hires add 150 or more people but are not part of the Legislative Counsel Bureau staff.

Altogether, Combs said he expects the 2017 session to cost a bit less than $20 million — about what it cost in 2015.


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