Monday, May 9, 2005

May 9, 2005 Numbers

Consider This for May 9, 2005—Numbers

It is all about numbers. All you have to do is remember the numbers and you will do just fine. Forget the numbers and you are in big trouble.

The legislative session lasts for 120 days. One-third of a year. Four months. January 12 to May 11.

There are 100 legislators: thirty-five senators and sixty-five representatives.

Each gets five bills. That makes 500 bills. Then the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House each gets 100 late bills. That totals 700 bills in all. This year there were fewer bills than in any other year in recent memory.

It has more to do with money rather than efficiency. No money, no bills. Could be good or could be bad.

Each representative can go to the well, the front of the chamber, and speak in the microphone two times on each bill. Each time can only be for ten minutes. That means on one bill we could have 200 trips to the well to speak in the microphone for a total of 4,000 minutes or over sixty-six hours.

Never happens though. It just seems like it.

Each member serves on at least two committees. Mine are Transportation and Local Government. Transportation meets twice a week, and Local Government meets once a week. Some members are on three and sometimes four committees. Fortunately, they do not all meet every day, or every week for that matter.


One might think that things would slow down toward the end of the session. It is actually backwards. The legislature is like a very large vehicle that is slow to start, but once it gets going it is hard to slow down.

When I think about it, I am reminded of the very first Mickey Mouse cartoon called Steamboat Willy. The drawing of the steamboat shows it has a life of its own, and as it chugs around it actually expands and contracts with each stroke of power.

Then imagine the huge State Capitol building expanding and contracting with each day, gaining energy to the point that smoke and sundry items pour from the windows as if it is about to explode.

Imagine that pressure increasing each day until May 11 when it all ends for eight months. The building takes a sigh of relief on May 12.


This past two weeks many of my fellow members have taken the long walk to the well to announce they are making a motion to lay their bill over until May 12. One day after the session ends. Effectively killing their bill. They do this because they have been counting the numbers on their bill. They have found there are not thirty-three votes for their issue. You must have thirty-three votes to get your bill out of the House. Thirty-three is over half of sixty-five.

The numbers are thirty-three, eighteen, and one. Thirty-three votes in the House to pass, eighteen in the Senate to pass, and the one vote from the governor for something to become law.

Amazing how that works. Separation of powers. If the governor does not say it is Haines, then it is not Haines. If you don’t have the majority in each of the parts of the legislature, it is not Haines.

If the governor vetoes your bill, he will take some time to write you a letter explaining why he vetoed the bill. His spin on things. I have read several of these letters, and they make sense. I did not say I agreed with him, but his rationale made sense. If I were governor I would do the same thing, but I am sure my rationale would be better. Right? Well, maybe.

If your bill is vetoed, you have another shot at it. You can bring the bill back and try to get a super-majority to override the veto. It takes forty-four votes to override a veto in the House. It has not been done since 1988 when the legislature overrode a veto by former Governor Romer. That issue was on how lottery dollars would be spent. The people wanted open space, and the governor wanted prisons.

The numbers work. The system works.

The United States was set up as a federalist system of government. We are fifty separate states doing business in fifty different ways. Using the numbers to provide the very best government your $15.3 billion dollars will buy. We can agonize about how expensive government has become, how slowly it works, and what a mystery the numbers can be. But we can point with pride at how our citizen government continues to accomplish our goals without any military coups or civil wars.