Title-only bills can leave us with a bad taste
In our opinion
As the Washington state Legislature was on the verge of sending things into “overtime” – officially a special session – the term title-only bill began to show up in conversations.
Call it “drive-thru” law making if you will.
Title-only bills are just what the name infers. A bill is given a name and a number but all the blanks are filled in later. Convenient for busy lawmakers who are trying to get as much done within the 90 days they are officially authorized to do business, but potentially dangerous when it comes to the citizens of the state.
The Cheney Free Press, and many others, also see these “placeholders” as problematic. In the newspaper business, title-only bills are akin to writing a headline without having written the story.
In traditional bill building that goes on in Olympia, there’s a careful process that involves sponsorship, attracting additional support and then dedicating staff resources to write the legislation. A myriad of additional things go into legislation before it ever emerges into the light of day in an effort to make it law.
Enter title-only bills, designed to simply hold a place in line. Despite having no meat, no cheese, no tomato, title-only bills get into the legislative food chain with just the bun.
In our estimation title-only bills are legislative shenanigans that buy time and get potential legislation past the bill cut-off period. According to the Washington Policy Center, title-only bills have been around for more than 20 years.
So while others are trying to carefully craft language that will pass more than just the “sniff test,” legislators like Democratic Sen. Ed Murray were personally pushing 22 title-only bills
While the number of Murray’s title-only bills draw attention today, and allow him to be the focus of some criticism, he reminded the Policy Center’s Director for Government Reform, Jason Mercier that Republican’s never faced the spotlight for their past use.
One of the many flaws with title-only bills is that they limit discussion. In their defense, lawmakers say title-only bills provide flexibility while helping them to avoid missing deadlines.
The Cheney Free Press requested comment from legislators across Eastern Washington as to their views on this controversial legislation. Two area lawmakers were able to carve time out of their schedules to provide some thoughts.
“I’ve found that a legislative process whose sole purpose is agenda driven, carries potential for abuse,” 6th District Republican Rep. Jeff Holy said in an email.
Holy is in support of the Washington Policy Center’s proposed Legislative Transparency Act which would prohibit title-only bills.
The 9th District’s Republican Rep. Joe Schmick said, “This flies in the face of open government and waiting periods so that the public can see what is going on,” he wrote in an email. “The end of session does provide temptations to utilize title only as vehicles when everyone is tired, weary, and really wanting to go home to their families.”
Washington state stands very much alone in their use of title-only tool to push legislation.
“Most states I am familiar with do not allow title only bills for legislative consideration, generally under the reasoning that you need to know the details of a bill to make an informed decision about how to vote on it and even where to refer it,” the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Bruce Feustel told Mercier.
This type of legislation is like approaching the order display at your favorite drive through and given just the name of the selection’s available – no mention of ingredients, whether it comes with onion rings, or even the price.
Exchanging the food is likely little more than an inconvenience. Rescinding a law that was rushed through the process can give us all real indigestion.