Year two being planned

In 2013 I participated in a group which was a natural fit for me. Since I do the monoblogue Accountability Project on an annual basis, the fact that a group of volunteers took on the task of studying every bill which eminated from the “90 Days of Terror” – my pet name for the Maryland General Assembly session – was a task I felt right at home working on for Maryland Legislative Watch. I think I studied and commented on about 10 or 15 bills, although several volunteers did a lot more.

Well, I’m pleased to receive word from Elizabeth Myers that year two is in the works for 2014:

Thank you for everything you did in the 2013 legislative session. It takes a tireless, irate minority to keep an eye on the Maryland legislature – good government requires the People’s oversight.

Looking at the website statistics, we have tens of thousands of views to date. That means there is a lot of interest in the work we’re doing!

I hope you will be able to come back to volunteer again in the 2014 session. We’re more organized and more determined.

This project was put together in a short span of time for the 2013 session. We learned a lot and made some changes. For 2014, one change is more robust information storage.

In 2014, bills will be assigned via email. The request to read each bill will include:

  • Link to the bill
  • Title of the bill
  • Brief synopsis
  • Number of pages
  • Link to form with 3-4 questions to answer (plus any additional comments you wish to add)

You’ll be asked to let us know if you cannot read the bill (if you can, we ask that you read it within a few days). The whole process should take 5 – 10 minutes per bill and we ask that you commit to reading at least 15 bills during the session.

No Google account will be required. No more searching a Google doc for your name.

In the 2013 session, we found that 1,500 bills were introduced in 2 weeks – this is a function of the calendar and will happen in 2014, too. They turn on the fire hose and we will try our best to miss fewer bad bills.

We are presenting the project to groups in Washington, Harford, Cecil, Carroll, Howard, and Baltimore Counties, in an effort to get Maryland Legislative Watch a wider readership. We’re gaining more followers on social media and lots of subscribers to Please tell your friends and family about the project!

What we learned in 2013:

  • Once a bill gets out of committee, it passes. Bills must be fought IN committee.
  • It takes relatively few people to make an impact on a committee – 15 or so.
  • There is little opposition to bills once they get to the floor – in the House, 75% passed unanimously.
  • We will not win on big bills, we can have an impact only on small bills and build.

Please let us know if you can volunteer again in 2014. We’ll be thrilled to have you back!

Questions/comments – please let me know.

By my count, there were 2,619 bills introduced in the Maryland General Assembly last year; however, in reality the number of separate measures is somewhat smaller because a percentage of the bills are crossfiled between bodies. Those bills are introduced as identical copies in both the House and the Senate, and are assigned bill numbers in each which rarely match. (For example, the gun bill was Senate Bill 281 and its companion House bill was introduced as House Bill 294.) This shaves the number down to a large extent, although not in half as one may gather.

One other thing I seem to recall being done as part of the triage from the deluge of bills was ignoring the “creation of a state debt” bond bills. That also makes up a significant fraction of the proposed legislation, although by themselves the bills are rarely acted upon. Normally these are just considered as requests for funding in the portion of the budget reserved for such bills.

When you boil all these out you are talking about perhaps 1,200 to 1,500 bills of significance. If each person commits to reading 15, that means we need 80 to 100 volunteers. (This would be most useful around the early part of the session in January, when much of the legislation is introduced in the hopes of getting hearings scheduled fairly early on.) In fact, a number of bills are pre-filed for introduction on the opening day of the session and, according to the General Assembly website, these will be available in late December – so some can get a jump.

The frenetic pace of the session in the early going sometimes seems to be the hiding place for bills which are destined to be controversial – seemingly sponsors figure it’s like Obamacare and if it can just be passed we will find out what’s in it once it takes effect. Maryland Legislative Watch intends to shine a light on the process and keep bad bills from becoming law.

Additional reading: last April, just after the 2013 session concluded, I interviewed Elizabeth on the group and its intentions. I’m looking forward to adding my perspective this coming year as well. You can check out their website as well, or contact Elizabeth.