Not only does government seem to grow on a steady basis, but the governmental process as well seems to continue to expand. For example, when a constitutional amendment initially authorized the federal income tax, the documents required only a few pages.
Currently, the Internal Revenue Code, I daresay, occupies several shelves of books. Congress has adopted a technique in the last several generations of passing a skeleton law and leaving an administrative agency, sometimes known as bureaucrats, to fill in the blanks with regulations. Invariably the regulations far exceed the number of pages contained in the law.
Texas is not immune to such steady expansion of the governmental process. A good example is the legislative process. Even in the few short years since 1962 there have been major changes.
In 1962 in the House of Representatives in the State of Texas, the 150 state representatives filed a grand total of 1,088 House Bills, 332 of which were passed, 127 concurrent resolutions, 589 House resolutions and 80 proposed constitutional amendments. In 2009, the most recent Legislative Session, State Representatives filed 4,836 House Bills, 867 of which passed, 285 concurrent resolutions, 3,140 ordinary House resolutions and 140 proposed constitutional amendments.
It is hard to believe that from 1963 to 2009, the needs of the State of Texas had grown so much that almost five times as many pieces of legislation were necessary to meet the needs of citizens of Texas.
It is my fervent belief that technology rather than need is the culprit in this spectacular growth in the number of pieces of legislation offered, debated and passed by our legislature. In 1962 computers were not in use, except by large corporations, mainly due to the fact computers were large, bulky and owned by only a few major businesses. The laptop was unheard of and if a legislator had at his/her disposal an electronic typewriter, they were blessed. Many bills were handwritten by each representative, passed on to a sparsely staffed Legislative Council, and each waited its turn to be drafted into a proper bill.
In today’s legislative world bills are filed on computer disks and a multi-page bill of up to 1,000 pages can be whipped out with the flick of a button and altered or edited in a matter of minutes. The staff of the Legislative Council is more than adequately staffed today, and generally each representative or senator has capable, fully staffed offices for assistance.
Even the system of debate has been altered by technology. In 1963 if a House member was desirous of amending a bill on the floor, it was necessary to provide three copies of the proposed amendment to the Bill Clerk who then passed it to the Speaker who placed in line with others for consideration. Without copying machines or access to computers, House members were required to be somewhat innovative in preparing and presenting amendments.
The most common way to meet the three-copy rule was for a House member to have a legal pad at his or her disposal, along with three sheets of carbon papers. Amendments were handwritten, pressing down on the paper, producing two legible carbon copies, which along with the original met the three-copy rule for an amendment. As you can imagine, amendments were drafted using the fewest number of words necessary to accomplish the aim of the proposed amendor; and fewer amendments were offered.
In today’s House of Representatives in the Texas Legislature, with everyone having access to a computer, free access to unlimited copying, and other high-tech methods of complying with rules, small forests are devoured each session with the amount of paper used just on amendments. The current rule in the House requires fifty copies of any particular amendment to be filed along with the original amendment; and if more are requested by members of the House, they too have to be reproduced and in short order.
It may be thought to be facetious, but I am absolutely convinced, after watching the process for several years, and remembering the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of America, two very durable documents, were written with quill pen and ink by hand. We should all wish the present-day legislation were given as much thought and consideration by the authors of such legislation as were given to those fine documents by our forefathers.
While I wouldn’t be so facetious as to require that present-day amendments and bills be written with quill pen and ink, I do think it would be somewhat helpful and would enhance the quality of legislation and reduce the number of bills by requiring initial copies of legislation to be handwritten by their author.
Presently, lobbyists, with the inside help of a member of the Legislature, have access to the Legislative Council as well as members. Bills are turned out wholesale and passed to members with the request that they be introduced and sponsored as their own particular idea of how the law should be influenced. Were bills to be written by their author, we could be assured of whose bill it really was by comparing the handwriting with that of the named author.
I daresay that giving members of the Legislature full credit for bills introduced would have a salutary effect on some of the silly measures introduced each session. I doubt requiring handwritten legislative proposals would give us the quality of thought and durability as reflected in our United States Constitution, but I am convinced it would be a great step forward in the quality of legislation and the retardation of useless legislation.