Managing Legislative Time

Article excerpt

Time is one of the most precious commodities for legislatures, especially for part-time legislatures. "Perhaps the most trying aspect of a legislator's life is the frustration born of inadequate time to cope with the flood of issues and problems that a session involves," says Duane Lockard, a former Connecticut senator.

So lawmakers have adopted processes to maximize the use of legislative time--both in planning the overall session and managing work on the floor. And while these mechanisms are effective tools when properly used, they are not an automatic panacea. Direction on the part of leaders and discipline on the part of members is essential to their success. Here are some things to try:

PLANNING THE OVERALL SESSION

1. Organize early. Early organization of the legislature usually leads to more efficient use of legislative time. Legislatures that meet to organize before the regular session believe that it helps preserve short sessions and part-time schedules by making better use of the early days or weeks of session. "Early organization is the linchpin, because so many other workload management procedures are tied to it," says John Phelps, clerk of the Florida House.

2. Allow bill prefiling. This process allows bills to be prepared and introduced before regular session convenes. It increases the efficiency of the legislative process in several ways:

* Legislative staff usually have more time to draft legislation.

* The paperwork that is necessary for a bill's official introduction--for example, gathering sponsor signatures--can be completed early.

* Presiding officers have more time to consider to which committee a bill will be referred.

* Committees may establish agendas before the first week of session and begin work immediately when session convenes.

3. Establish deadlines. Since proper planning is absolutely essential for the orderly flow of legislative business, most chambers have instituted deadline systems that require completion of certain activities by set dates before the session's end. Thus, the legislature's work occurs in stages that offer a reasonable amount of time for both study and compromise.

The five most common deadlines are for:

* Bill introductions,

* Committee action,

* Action by the house of origin,

* Second house action,

* Conference committee action.

Mark Brandsgard, administrative assistant to the House minority leader in Iowa, says deadlines are "designed to funnel legislation down to major issues as the session progresses."

MANAGING WORK ON THE FLOOR

1. Organize floor business. A legislative calendar is a chamber's daily "work order." It is a published list of proposals, arranged according to the agenda of business to be conducted during a floor session. Almost every legislature uses a calendar system to organize its business, but the types of calendars vary. For example:

* State constitutions usually contain provisions that require three readings of bills. As a result, legislatures frequently title their calendars "first reading," "second reading" or "third reading" to mirror this requirement.

* Many measures introduced and enacted by state legislatures are not controversial. …