WOSTER: 'Hunger Games' rules for SD Legislature?The Legislature has 35 districts. Say each district gets two bills, those bills are brought to Pierre and all of them compete, with the folks in each district trying to kill off the other districts’ bills. Last bill standing goes into the law books.
I wonder if there are people in South Dakota so young they aren’t aware that the state hasn’t always had an annual legislative session.
Time was, the Legislature met every other year. In between meetings, things just rolled along, I suppose. I was in college before the decision was made to go to annual sessions.
In 1962, for example, my senior year in high school, the Legislature did not meet. It was only meeting in odd-numbered years then. By the time my little sister became a high school senior, 1964, the Legislature was meeting annually. (And, if she reads these things, or if anyone else out there is doing math, she graduated from high school at an incredibly young age, so don’t necessarily take the age of a typical high-school senior and then add any time between 1964 and today.)
Not to be a broken record (and in the world of iPods and digital play lists, I suppose nobody talks much about broken records?) I covered my first session of the South Dakota Legislature in 1970. It was called the short session. The odd-numbered years hosted the long sessions in those days. A long session was 45 days.
The short sessions, in even-numbered years, were 30 days. Blink and you missed the short session.
Old-timers in the Capitol when I arrived told me the idea of going from sessions every other year to annual meetings was that the budget would be handled in the short session. Nothing else, just the budget. Well, maybe a few emergencies now and then, but mainly the state’s budget. The long session would be used for making new laws, repealing outdated or obsolete statutes and so on. When they explained it that way, it seemed to make sense. I gather that even the first short session, 1964, a whole lot more than just the budget was handled.
By the time I arrived, the short session and the long session each handled both the yearly budget and a slew of bills. Some years there were nearly as many bills in the short session as in the long session. It made for interesting days and nights of lawmaking, and the first few years I was a statehouse reporter, the House and Senate held many, many evening meetings. A couple of those years? It seemed like if there wasn’t a floor session lasting into the late evening to finish a long bill calendar, there were half a dozen committee meetings going on around the Capitol late into the night.
I used to sit in the press box in the House or Senate and wonder why the legislators couldn’t control the number of bills they introduced. Many of the bills were doomed from the moment they received a number and a jacket. Many, if truth be told, were doomed when they were conceived in the mind of the lawmaker or a constituent.
I sometimes tried to work out a rating system that bills would have to pass before they could be introduced. What if every legislator had only two slots for bills each session? Well, that seemed unconstitutional or something. What if a legislator had to deposit, say, $1,000 every time he or she introduced a bill? If it passed, the lawmaker got the money back. If it failed, the money went to the state treasury. I tested that with other reporters. They liked the idea except for the notion that it might limit lawmaking to people willing to risk losing $1,000. In that case, lawmaking would be limited to the rich or the risk-takers.
Just the other evening, I had a fresh thought. What if lawmaking were like the “Hunger Games?” Two people from each district competed to see who wouldn’t be killed.
The Legislature has 35 districts. Say each district gets two bills, those bills are brought to Pierre and all of them compete, with the folks in each district trying to kill off the other districts’ bills. Last bill standing goes into the law books. I need to see the movie again to figure out a few plot twists, but I see nothing but sky-high ratings.
It might take a constitutional amendment, but the sequels would be endless.