5-11-15 – Shorter Session a Very Good Idea

by Rob Roper

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, also a Republican candidate for governor, has proposed limiting the legislative session to 90 days. Though it’s not specified in Scott’s proposal whether he means 90 calendar days or 90 days of gaveling in (a big difference as this year the legislature only gaveled in on 72 days), the implications are that he means the former. Let’s hope so!

While the bulk of the news coverage over this proposal has focused on the efficiencies of this move – forcing legislators to prioritize major issues and scrap minor, distracting things like making a turnip the state root vegetable – the real benefit would come with a deeper, more diverse pool of able candidates for office.

The joke in Montpelier says that if you run for the House or Senate it’s because you need $10,000, or you don’t need $10,000. That’s about what a legislator makes in salary per year, with the implication being that you get a lot of people who are either independently wealthy, or retired and on a fixed income. Another group is union or non-profit employees who are, for all intents and purposes, paid to be elected lobbyists for their employers who in turn supply them with a no-show job title and paycheck for five months out of the year.

The folks who find it most difficult or impossible to run for office are the folks we want most: people who run or work in small businesses who live with the decisions Montpelier makes, and younger people who are dealing day to day with the challenges of raising families. The reality is that it’s hard, if you’re the boss, to walk away from your business for four to five months to sit in a committee room. Similarly, if you’re not the boss, it’s hard to ask for that kind of time off. Taking or asking for 90 days is no cake-walk either, but it is at least a little more reasonable; a little more manageable.

While this proposal sounds simple, it will be a difficult change to effect because all incumbent politicians regardless of party have an incentive to keep the system that put them there in place. The only way they will act is if they feel that the danger of making the change is a lesser evil than the danger of not making the change. Only the voters can instill that kind of fear. Will they?

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ed Dubois May 21, 2016 at 11:18 am

Another way to get real dedicated people would be to legislate on weekends only.That alone would be a huge incentive to handle real issues and the number of days worked per year would never be more than 104. It might also cut down on the number of interested lobbyists. Most retirees don’t care what day of the week it is so it wouldn’t matter to them, a great setup working two days per week. Term limits wouldn’t be necessary, there would be sufficient turnover with fresh ideas. Probably fewer people with young families would want to participate as legislators, but it takes a generation or so to be educated by the hardships of life before you have something really useful to contribute so there’s no loss there.

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