Title-only bills skirt constitution

The OlympianApril 16, 2013 

Among the bills still alive in this legislative session, seven deal with the important topics of education, health care, human services, natural resources and the ever-popular but head-scratching “State Government Act.” We would love to offer an opinion on each of them, but there’s a problem: We don’t know anything about them.

The Legislature calls these measures title-only bills, meaning they have a title, but no content.

If the Senate or House calls for a public hearing on one of these bills, the public might only get hours notice and those who show up will wonder what to say. Health care is good? We love education?

The devil is always in the details, but without any specifics, a hearing on title-only bills becomes a meaningless exercise for collecting public input. Their only value lies in enabling lawmakers to meet citizens’ expectations that a public meeting occurs prior to passage of a bill.

More bluntly, lawmakers use title-only bills to circumvent the state constitution’s prohibition on new bills being introduced with less than 10 days to go in session without a supermajority vote.

Legislators claim they need the flexibility of title-only bills to get around this constitutional protection, so they can get done on time. Let’s remember that when they go into a special session to finish work on the budget.

The Washington Coalition for Open Government and other organizations, such as the Washington Policy Center, have lobbied for years to prohibit title-only bills and to require at least a 72-hour notice before holding a public hearing.

It’s a reasonable request. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, most states outlaw title-only bills. Washington is one of the few to allow them.

We appreciate the time crunch facing lawmakers, who make a serious attempt to finish their business within a regular session. But the rush to pass important legislation should not get way in the of a transparent public process.

The public and lawmakers need the details before they can offer a valid comment or make an informed vote.

We expect the Legislature to adhere to the same transparency requirements placed on local governments. The Legislature should prohibit title-only bills and provide sufficient time for the public, and lawmakers, to read and assess proposed changes to the law.

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