The way the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry sees it, there ought to be a law to run state legislators out of town — at least after a reasonable period of time.
A key element of the organization's 2014 legislative wish list is a law which limits how long the Legislature can remain in session each year. The goal is to have lawmakers adhere more closely to the self-imposed but often-ignored rule to be gone by late April.
Garrick Taylor, a chamber vice president, acknowledged there's some enlightened self-interest in the proposal.
“How do we attract quality candidates for the Legislature?” he asked. And by “quality candidates,” Taylor is clearly thinking those with some business background.
“It's tough for me to come to you and encourage you to run for office if I can't tell you how long we're going to need you down at the Capitol,” he explained.
“You've got members of the business community who'd like to either tap some of their employees or members of civic organizations, the circles they run in,” Taylor continued. He said there is a reticence to volunteer when a session that begins the second week of January could easily run into May or June.
That leaves the question of whether a hard-and-fast deadline will only cause more problems at the end of the legislative session, where complicated measures appear rushed through with minimal debate and discussion — and where lawmakers sometimes do not learn until later about the unintended bugs in what they just approved.
Some of that showed up in a late-session measure revamping state campaign finance laws to sharply increase the amount of money candidates can take, but the wording of the legislation resulted in candidates having to form separate committees for their primary and general election bids.
Gretchen Martinez, another chamber vice president, said it doesn't need to be that way.
She envisions a system where committees meet during the months when the Legislature is not in session. They would have set days for meetings and the same requirements for a quorum.
More to the point, they would start to hear bills at that point.
“The idea being that, if there are questions that need to be resolved before the bill goes to the floor, that those things can happen during that interim session,” Martinez said.
Glenn Hamer, the chamber's president, conceded none of that will prevent the kind of last-minute “strike-everything” amendments that occur late in the session where an entirely new — and untested — proposal is brought to life. Hamer said his group is not proposing to outlaw the procedure.
“But we believe if we model our legislative program after what's worked in some other states, it will reduce the need, it will take some of the pressure off of doing strikers,” he said.
Hamer acknowledged that means more activity outside the traditional January-through-April (or later) legislative season.
“But it's structured and it's predictable,” he said, versus having sessions of unknown length “which really does eliminate some really good candidates from running for office.”
Even if the Legislature were to put a 100-day deadline in statute, that doesn't guarantee adjournment on time: Lawmakers are always free to amend the law, or even suspend it on a temporary basis.
Hamer said, though, it would be “another pressure” on lawmakers to wrap up their business, beyond the current laws that cut their per diem allowances sharply after the 120th day. But number of days notwithstanding, he said the limit, coupled with more actual committee action during the off-session interim, will make the process better.