Republican State Senator Josh McKoon offered a legislative session preview to members of the Snellville Commerce club today. In addition to talking about possible agenda items such as a shorter than normal session to accommodate the May primary, which McKoon suggested would include having legislative days during the second week of the session normally reserved for budget hearings, the senator brought up two process reforms he indicated he would push for.
The first would be a change to the way conference committee reports are dealt with. Currently, any conference committee reports must be printed and available to the legislators to read for an hour before they can be voted on, in theory to allow the changes to be digested. McKoon proposes changing this to 24 hours.
Typically, on the fortieth day of the session, many conference committee reports are delivered to legislators desks shortly before 11 PM, so they can be voted on before midnight. There is simply no time to read and understand what changes might be incorporated in them. And while legislative novices might think that the conference reports only contain minor changes from the original legislation, they often have major changes or even marginally related legislation attached to them in hopes of getting something passed.
A 24 hour window to digest conference committee changes would certainly change the way the last day of the session works, but it would also eliminate some of the shenanigans the final hours of the session are known for.
Senator McKoon’s second proposal is to split the session into two parts. During the first 20 days, the legislators would consider and pass the supplemental budget and the budget for the following year. The last 20 days would be spend considering all other legislation.
Why do this? McKoon points out that legislators often receive ‘subtle hints’ to support an unrelated non-budgetary bill, otherwise they might not receive funding for something they personally are interested in, or something that would benefit their constituents. Splitting the session would remove this pressure, and allow fairer consideration of the non-budget bills.
There is another reason for considering a split session, however. Unless we want short sessions like we will see this year every even year in the future, some sort of changes will have to be made. Assuming the election calendar isn’t going to change again, a split session might allow a break for qualifying and a chance to do some needed fundraising before the May primary.
It’s unknown how far Senator McKoon’s proposals will go. But, they do seem to provide for a legislature that is more ethical, transparent and open. And that would be a good thing.