Bill Brake-down: Senator Advocates for Legislation Limit

Bills introduced in the 2019 General Assembly session are stacked in the Bill Room at the Department of Legislative Services building in Annapolis. Photo illustration by Danielle E. Gaines.

A Frederick County lawmaker wants to cut down the Maryland Senate’s workload ― and possibly improve the chamber’s work product at the same time.

Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick) has proposed a change to the Senate Rules that would limit senators to introducing 20 bills in each 90-day legislative session.

That would amount to 940 bills introduced in the chamber, though lawmakers would still be able to introduce administration bills, local bills and committee bills not subject to the limit.

In 2019, there were 1,056 bills introduced in the Senate.

The figures are typically lower in the first year of a new term and creep higher as lawmakers gain footing. The 2018 session, for example, set a record for the number of bills introduced: 3,127 in the House and Senate combined, with senators responsible for introducing 1,281 measures.

In the 2019 session, 20 senators introduced 21 or more bills. Four of the lawmakers were Republicans, 16 Democrats.

“It’s absorbing too much of our time,” Hough said of the chamber’s voluminous hopper in recent years.

Hough says his proposal will clear backlogs, cut down on bills that perennially fail, and ensure that legislation is more thoroughly vetted before it’s introduced. A more manageable number of bills would give sponsors and committees alike more time to create the best laws possible, he said.

“Some people bring in these complex, problematic bills and just throw them on our lap and say, ‘Hey committee, you fix ‘em,” Hough said recently.

“And then they get mad when we don’t!” his Judicial Proceedings Committee colleague Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll) chimed in after a recent Senate floor session.

Twenty-four state legislatures have some rule imposing limits on the number of bills lawmakers can introduce, Hough said.

He decided to push for the rule change with the recent election of Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), who has signaled a desire to update and streamline some of the chamber’s practices.

California’s year-round legislature imposes a similar 20-bill limit.

Top leaders in the Senate have been seriously discussing the issue in recent weeks, though it isn’t clear that Hough’s proposal will pass out of the Rules Committee.

Five of 2019 prolific filers are on the 12-member Senate Rules Committee, which will hold a hearing Friday on Hough’s proposal.

The Republican senator from Frederick County does have some support from colleagues ― even from one he might not expect.

Frederick’s Democratic Sen. Ronald N. Young would be a repeat offender if the 20-bill limit were already in place.

“Always!” Young responded when asked how many years he’s introduced more than 20 bills.

And yet, “I like the rule,” he said. “You could get down and concentrate on the better bills and really work them.”

Young said he and others in the chamber often feel pressure to introduce measures on behalf of constituents or groups they care about.

And then there are those bills that get introduced without much hope of passing, but are intended to make a point. Young said he’s guilty of that maneuver, too.

“I might still have to make that point, but maybe less of them,” he laughed.

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Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.