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By Mark D. Hughes
«RM75»«FC»COL10.MDH - Seniority Matters in Filing Legislation
Every December, news stories about "prefiled" bills abound. After all, reporters are coming off a long dry spell since the veto session the preceding September. A careful review of the Senate Rules, however, shows that senators can technically begin prefiling bills not on Dec. 1, but as early as July 1.
Senate rules require that the Secretary of the Senate hold those bills in the order they were submitted until Dec. 1. Then, at close of business on that date, the bills are numbered according to the seniority of the sponsoring senator. Each senator gets to file up to three bills, then the numbering scheme moves to the next senior senator.
House rules, in contrast, simply require the bills be numbered in the order they are filed. Certain bill numbers are reserved for appropriations bills, which by tradition originate in the lower chamber.
In the House, the Speaker has extensive control over what passes. In the Senate, seniority comes more into play.
While term limits has made the Methuselah-like tenures of senators an impossibility -- Sen. Michael Kenney, D-St. Louis served from 1912 until 1969 -- seniority still matters. In fact, it's so important the rules of the Senate specify how seniority is determined. While caucuses of each party are left to duke it out over which senator gets what office -- those with a river view are the most coveted -- just about everything else from where senators sit on the chamber floor, to where they get to park and the number assigned to the bills they file are determined by seniority.
With seniority comes certain bragging rights While being able to claim sponsorship of the "first" bill filed during a session brings some notoriety, there is also a practical aspect, at least in theory. An early start in the session leaves more time for the legislation to make its way through the gauntlet of committee hearings, floor debate and votes in each chamber that are necessary for passage.
At the beginning of each two-year general assembly, the bill numbering system begins anew. The first Senate bill, for example, will be SB 1. During the second annual session -- and this year lawmakers will begin the Second Regular Session of the 98th General Assembly, the bill numbering system starts where the previous session left off. During the upcoming session the first bill in the Senate will be SB 569. In the House, the first bill will be HB 1366.
A counter theory holds that while prefiled bills have more time to be passed, they also have more time to garner opposition. It's worth noting that many major bills are actually filed later in the session. The late filing increases time during the session to build support and refine detailed language the bill will ultimately contain. And, and it reduces the amount of time for opposition to build against specific language contained in the bill.
Once the legislative sessions begin, the measures are introduced from the floor, rather than being turned in to the secretary or clerk. Thus, the prefiling process actually reduces what could be a logjam of legislation turned in all at once
This year more than 400 measures were prefiled -- a high number even for an election year. Lawmakers will have until mid-March to continue to introduce legislation.
The regular sessions of the General Assembly last until mid-may -- almost five months. Regardless of the sponsor's seniority, a bill has to get 18 votes in the Senate and 82 votes in the House to pass. Regardless of prefiling -- and the fact that a bill can be truly agreed to and finally passed in as few as five days -- next May lots of stories will abound about the many, many bills for which time simply "ran out" before they could be approved.
[After a career in journalism, Mark Hughes became a top, non-partisan policy analyst for Missouri government including the state Senate, state Treasurer's Office and the utility-regulating PSC. He has been an observer and analyst of state government since the administration of Gov. Kit Bond.]
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