I am wondering this today after reading this article in The Washington Post in which Katie O'Malley characterized legislative opponents of last year's narrowly defeated same-sex marriage bill as "cowards."
Though her remarks are definitely making headlines, what actually struck me was the article's next boilerplate sentence:
"The first lady’s assessment, in remarks at a national conference of gay-rights advocates in Baltimore, comes as her husband is championing a similar bill in this year’s 90-day legislative session."
Isn't it kind of crazy that, in 2012, a state legislature charged with writing, debating, and voting on laws that will affect the lives of millions of people has only 90 days to complete its task? And that's 90 calendar days, not even working days! If there are, say, back to back blizzards and the entire state shuts down for a few days, those work days for the legislature are lost. Ninety days, to consider and complete a year's worth of work. That's a little insane, right? Especially when issues as controversial as same-sex marriage or complicated as tax reform are at play?
I admit I had no idea how typical Maryland's legislative calendar is, so I looked it up. The National Conference of State Legslatures' website has a helpful chart listing the length and type of each state's session. Turns out, there's a lot of variation. For instance, some states, like Texas, Nevada, and Montana, don't even convene their legislatures every year, instead opting for longer sessions every two years. Some state's, like Maine and Connecitcut just set a deadline, saying all business must be completed by the third Monday in June, or something.
There is also much variation in the way these rules are enforced. Some are dictated by state constitution, some by statute, and some by nothing but tradition, apparently.
Maryland's is dictated by our state constitution, meaning any attempts to change the length of the legislative session would have to be voted on by the legislature during said 90-day legislative session. What do you want to bet they won't get around to that any time soon? Still, wouldn't it be nice for the legislature to have more time to contemplate these issue more fully? Wouldn't we, as constituents, have more confidence in our legislators—and ultimately, their decisions—if we saw evidence of a deliberative legislative process at work, rather than a furious rush to cram it all in before the clock runs out? Perhaps even more time to debate might go a ways to breaking down the legislative gridlock that arises when controversial issues are under consideration?
Then again, the U.S. Congress is generally in session more than 300 days per year, and we've all seen how much that has relieved intractability.
So, what do you think?