Bill Bulge: Senate Leaders to Study Legislation Cap

Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick County) proposed a change to Senate Rules that would cap the number of bills lawmakers can introduce each year at 20. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

In an effort to reduce late-night committee sessions and late-session bill scrambles, new leaders in the Maryland Senate will spend the summer studying ways to curtail the chamber’s workload, including a proposal that would limit the number of bills senators can introduce.

The Senate Rules Committee, a bipartisan 12-member panel, met briefly on Friday to consider a proposed rule change from Republican Sen. Michael Hough (Frederick) that would have limited lawmakers to filing 20 bills per session in the future. While the committee wasn’t ready to approve Hough’s proposal on Friday, several members said they support the concept generally and also want to look at other ways to reduce workload.

“I do think there’s a real challenge here and we’ve got to figure out a way through it,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said during the meeting.

While Hough’s proposal is being held for now, Ferguson said he plans to spend the interim gathering other proposals for institutional change.

Hough said he’s fine with the delay and is pleased that Senate leaders are seriously considering his proposal.

“Whether we do it this year or whenever, we’ve got to do something to deal with the deluge of bills that are coming in. We want to put out our best product,” he said.

In recent years, the number of bills considered in both chambers of the legislature has been on the rise.

Hough’s proposed rule would not include administration, delegation and local bills in the 20-bill limit. Rules Committee members had further ideas to tweak the proposal, including to exclude technical bills from the cap and to allow lawmakers to seek permission to introduce more than 20 measures, particularly in emergency situations.

Twenty-four states have rules limiting the number of bills a legislator can introduce. In Virginia, lawmakers are limited in the number of bills they can file during session, but can file any number during the pre-filing period. In California, the limit for the year-round legislature is 20 bills per lawmaker.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said she struggles with the concept of picking an “arbitrary” number to limit bill filings.

“There are people that work really hard here in some areas that really affect significant operations of the state. And to tell them, you’ve reached an arbitrary limit, you can’t do anything this year…” Kelley said. “…We oughta think hard before we would just say that quantity per senator tops everything else.”

Hough, who introduced 19 bills in 2019, said he landed on a 20-bill limit because it’s close to the chamber’s average. He’d support a higher limit as well, but thinks there should be something “at least to stop somebody from putting in 50 or 60 …because we’re getting to that range.”

Senate Majority Leader Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) agreed that there can be such a thing as too many bills by a single sponsor.

“When I hear people say they’ve got 44 bills, I don’t even know how they could know enough about them to present them,” she said.

Other issues came up during the discussion as well, including the chamber’s policy to hold hearings on every piece of legislation.

“We’re stuck in these committee hearings for hours and hours listening to bills that may never go anywhere,” Hough said. “Instead of amending, fixing and doing the voting sessions.”

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, agreed that lengthy hearings sometimes cut into the time spent in voting sessions where lawmakers try to make well-intended bills better.

“So the quantity does affect our work product,” he said, but Pinsky wasn’t certain that a cap on filings was the only solution.

He suggested a thorough and systematic look at the issues during the interim.

“We have to do something. I agree wholeheartedly,” Pinsky said. “…I think we have to look at all the ideas in the mix.”

Ferguson said he will come up with a process to vet proposed changes to Senate operations during the interim.

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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.