The fate of the latest effort to limit the number of bills each Maine lawmaker can submit rests with a legislative rules committee after the House of Representatives forwarded the measure to that committee on Tuesday.
Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, has proposed an amendment to joint House and Senate rules that would limit senators to submitting 10 bills for the first year of a legislative session and representatives to five. Those limits wouldn’t count bills proposed on behalf of the governor or a state agency, committee bills or other specific circumstances.
There was no debate on the bill Tuesday before the House referred it to a rules committee. That committee will make a recommendation before the bill returns to the full Legislature for consideration.
Maine’s legislative process — particularly at the front end — has been a subject of debate for years, but there have been few attempts to change it. Part of the reason it’s controversial is that there are no limits on how many bills can be submitted in an incoming Legislature, which makes for a clogged process later in the year. Under the current system, virtually every bill proposal must be written and fully considered at least at the committee level. That often results in numerous proposals on the same topic being considered concurrently and for freshman lawmakers to attempt things that have been turned away in a string multiple previous years.
Proponents of unlimited bill submission say lawmakers should be free to propose what they want, but others say that leads to a colossal waste of time. How states handle the flow of bills varies significantly, with many states having legislative leaders cull the list early in the session and others having bills arise from issues debates at the committee level. There are no limits in Maine until the second year of a session, when bills are supposed to be of an emergency or budgetary nature. Those who oppose a limit on the number of bills each lawmaker can submit also argue that a limit would stifle constituent service because lawmakers routinely submit bills on behalf of people they represent.
Relatively few bills make it to enactment in Maine. In the past 20 years, the high-water mark on that front was 48 percent in the 119th Legislature in 1999-2000, but it’s usually much lower. Fewer than 25 percent of bills made it to enactment in the 117th, 118th, 120th and 122nd legislatures. This session, lawmakers have submitted nearly 1,800 bills and that total balloons by hundreds more when you count agency and governor’s bills. Two senators, Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, and Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, each sponsored more than 40 bills.
There have been a lot of calls to do something like this in the past. Former state senator and Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett and former Democratic Speaker of the House Mike Saxl tried to rein in the amount of proposed legislation, according to a 2017 analysis of the issue by the BDN. The problem is that timeline for electing new legislative leaders collides with the rush to implement joint House and Senate rules, and as Bennett told us, no one campaigns on a promise as weedy as changing legislative rules.
This is unlikely to go anywhere. Lawmakers have proven time and again over the years that they are loathe to impose limits upon themselves. Furthermore, it’s unclear what effect Stetkis’ proposal would have, considering it doesn’t apply to this year and that the 129th Legislature will implement its own rules when it convenes in December 2018.
“I’ve seen the frustration in the halls [of the State House],” Stetkis said during a radio interview earlier this month. “There’s just far too many bills for a part-time citizen Legislature.”
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