On Elections (and Everything Else) State Legislatures Are Where It’s Happening


[Image courtesy of cqrollcall]

CQ Roll Call had a fascinating article last week looking at the relative productivity of Congress and state legislatures – and while it had the definite air of a piece designed to sell CQ Roll Call’s state legislative tracking services, it contained some eye-opening stats nonetheless:

The 113th Congress passed 352 bills and resolutions in 2013 and 2014, according to CQ Roll Call data. That represents legislation cleared by both chambers – sometimes in different forms – and not all was signed into law …

More than 85,000 state bills have been introduced this year, according to StateTrack.
By contrast, the legislative bodies in all 50 states and Washington DC passed a whopping 45,564 bills and resolutions in that same period, according to data drawn from CQ Roll Call’s StateTrack.

Indeed, fully 38 states and the District of Columbia passed more legislation than Congress did last session.

Here’s another measure. Congress passed about 4 percent of the bills that were introduced by lawmakers, while states passed an average of 25 percent. Seen through this prism, every state in the nation was more productive than Congress. In fact, states were six times more productive. [emphasis added – full chart above]

Whatever numbers you choose, the point is made: there’s a whole lot of lawmaking going on in the states — far more than in Congress …

The article concedes that “bills passed” isn’t the most precise measure, but still reflects the sharp difference in pace and scope between state capitols and Capitol Hill:

Of course, the number of bills passed is a crude measure of productivity, because it does not capture the difficulty of reaching consensus on any given issue or the idea that a single piece of legislation by itself can have massive impact. Congress also passes omnibus bills, which can impact these numbers …

But it is still an indicator. The idea that state legislatures passed 129 times more bills and resolutions than Congress could be a message to [anyone interested in legislation] about where to train their attention in the year ahead.

“Congress hasn’t been very productive, but that’s just not the case in the states,” said Max Behlke, manager of state and federal relations at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “States don’t have the flexibility to kick the can down the road. They have balanced budget amendments and things they actually have to address.”

This isn’t really news to anyone who follows election policy nationwide; while Congress is good at moving in response to crises (e.g. HAVA) or perceived consensus (e.g. the MOVE Act), the occasions when those opportunities line up just right are increasingly rare.

In short, Congress gets lots of attention on many issues – but on election policy, it’s currently little more than an afterthought given the torrent of activity in state capitols.

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