Shorter Session - The Missourian: Opinion

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Shorter Session

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Posted: Saturday, February 11, 2012 5:32 pm

Each year hundreds of bills are filed in the Missouri Legislature. The overwhelming majority never make their way out of committee.

That's just fine according to the pat responses we hear from legislators at the end of the session. They defend the lack of new legislation by noting there are too many laws anyway.

If you agree with that philosophy you might approve of an idea being floated by Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County. Sen. Lamping has introduced a bill that would shorten the legislative session by about a month from about 73 legislative days to about 48. Under the proposal, the legislative session would end in late March rather than mid-May beginning in 2015. If the law were in effect today, the veto session would be held in June, not September.

If approved by the full Senate and House, it would appear before voters on the November ballot.

The plan was debated this week in the Senate but no vote was taken, according to the Associated Press.

One of the obvious benefits to a shortened legislative session is that the state could save some money. According to one financial estimate, the state could save more than $400,000 annually by shortening the session. That's because the state wouldn't have to pay the legislators per diem and mileage expenses.

But Lamping says that isn't the real reason for introducing the bill. He filed it in the hope it would make lawmakers more efficient when they are meeting. Lamping said that a shorter session would force legislators to draft more of their bills in the off-season.

If they knew they had less time to complete their work, legislators would get down to business sooner rather than waiting until the final few weeks of the session to craft last-minutes compromises. They would be forced to be more productive.

Lamping's bill is intriguing. Anyone who has witnessed the session's final week and days can appreciate how chaotic lawmaking truly is in our legislature. Too often legislators don't have time to read the final drafts of bills much less give them thoughtful consideration before voting on them. Waiting until the week or even day of the session to hammer out compromises is how bad legislation gets passed. And it happens all too frequently.

But would lawmakers really change their ways just because there is less time to get the work done?

Critics say not a chance because that is just the way compromise is accomplished in Jefferson City. Deadlines force deals. Moving the deadline up won't change a thing and, if anything, less time might actually increase the chances that a special session would be required to sort out and fix bills.

While that might be true we like the idea of a shorter session. We think a shorter session would be an improvement and worth a try.

/opinion

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