I will be the first to admit that I’m not exactly an expert on our legislature’s inner workings. Like you, I view the machinations of our governing body from the comfort of my home while sipping my morning coffee or evening libation. I often find myself wondering how long it would take for a regular person to understand what seems to be an unnecessarily convoluted process.
Our legislators barely sit down to ponder the future fate of our state when the grumblings arise that ninety days are simply not long enough to do the people’s business. At the same time, it is apparently common knowledge that most legislators will keep their real agenda close to the breast until the end of the session when they will somehow use it to leverage what they really want during the last minute scramble to adjourn on time.
So coming from someone on the outside looking in, I must say it doesn’t seem to matter if the session is ninety days or one hundred and twenty days. Either way, we don’t get to know until the last minute what is really going to be done.
The reason most legislators give for a longer session is that it gives constituents a greater chance to be heard. This argument would hold a lot more water were it not for the fact that these legislators live amongst us mortals during the rest of the year and have nine other months in which to ferret out our wishes before heading to Juneau. Add to that the fact that with e-mail, Facebook, teleconferencing and special constituent airfares for those who simply must have a personal moment with their representative or senator, we have more access to our governing body than ever before in history.
I think what causes me the most heartburn about the constant cry for more time coming our of Juneau is that no matter how much time they have, nothing seems to really get done until the last forty-eight hours. It appears as though every legislative session ambles along in a semi-somnolent state for the majority of its length. Then everyone suddenly wakes up and realizes that they have less than one week to pass an operating budget, a capital budget, any new laws they deem necessary and any other business that must be completed.
Every year when this happens I am magically transported back to a simpler time in my life when I was young and in school and had a big project that was due immediately after the end of Christmas vacation. My friend Grace and I were about as compulsively obsessive about meeting deadlines as two young Catholic schoolgirls could be back then. We always had our projects done way before they were due.
My brother, on the other hand, was of the belief that a panicked last minute sprint to finish the night before going back to school kept the heart pumping in a healthy fashion and was much the better way to go. My brother went on to become a high school English teacher. I’m sure somewhere in heaven our mother is smiling at the irony.
Our legislature reminds me of my brother over Christmas vacation. They know they have a job to do. The topics they must deal with do not suddenly arise when they go into session. They have all year to spend staying on top of issues vital to our state. So why then does the end of our legislative session resemble nothing more than the mad scramble of a teenager who has ignored an assignment until the last minute and must now produce something, anything, that will give him or her a minimally passing grade? This would be the same teenager later heard grumbling that the teacher simply did not give him enough time to do a good job.
Give our legislators ninety days in session and they will scramble in the waning minutes of the session to actually get anything done. Give them one hundred and twenty days and they will do the same. Give them two hundred and forty days, same last minute scramble.
Seems to me our legislators need to learn a lesson we all should have learned in school – leaving things until the last minute is simply not a good idea.