"No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session" - Gideon J. Tucker, quote circa 1866 (commonly misattributed to Mark Twain as, "No one's life, liberty, or property are safe while Congress is making laws.")
Regardless of whether we're citing Judge Tucker or Mister Clemens, we should note clearly that the reference in question is conspicuously to the legislative arm of the government, and not the executive or judiciary. There's a reason for that, and it's the same reason that a certain initiative is once again gaining traction in Michigan.
According to a Tim Skubick op-ed circulated by the MLive Media Group a couple weeks ago, Michigan's Republican National Committeeman is joining the illustrious company of Dick Chrysler and Mike Bishop, among others, in advancing an initiative intended to revert Michigan's legislature to part-time status. Dave Agema believes that he can succeed where his predecessors have not, and not only actually get the thing on the ballot, but also ratified as an amendment to the Michigan Constitution. That the constitutionalist insurgency has this initiative pegged as one of their strategic priorities for the 2014 campaign cycle is likely to be a very big help, but we ought to first define what we mean by the term "part-time legislature."
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, exactly what constitutes a full-time or a part-time legislature isn't as black-and-white a question as it would seem. This is because a legislator's workload consists of four items:
Attending legislative sessions and voting on proposed laws
Constituent services, whether from the capitol office or from the district office
Interim committee work (issue research and committee hearings), including on non-session days
Campaigning for election or re-election
. . . and any fair assessment of the time requirements a legislator's job must include all four of these elements, including the expenses incurred in their performance. The NCSL then divides the states into three basic categories, based upon how much of their time legislators in the state spend performing at least one of the aforementioned workload tasks, whether at least 80%, less than 54%, or some amount in between. Thus, assuming a typical 50-hour salaried work-week, a true full-time legislator spends at least 40 hours per week, on average, doing at least one of the four things that define a legislator's workload, while a true part-time legislator will spend no more than 27 hours per week, on average, performing the same tasks.
Interestingly, Texas, notorious for a legislature that's in session for an average of one week per year, is classified by the NCSL as a "hybrid legislature," based on the amount of time that individual legislators spend on the other three tasks in the legislative workload.
So, it would seem that a true citizen legislator is a product more of the culture in their state and less of the amount of time they spend in session. And as we know, culture cannot be changed by fiat (statutory, constitutional, or otherwise). Thus, while the Michigan Part-Time Legislature Amendment Initiative is a fine-sounding idea on its face, I suspect that if this initiative isn't thought all the way through (before the petition is placed into circulation), we'll wind up with a long-term fiasco similar to the Michigan State Office Amendment . . . looks great on paper, but a disaster when actually implemented (sort of like Windows Vista).
To the extent that the CRMPTL and Senator Mike Nofs are willing to accept my advice, it's that not so much as one sentence that isn't directly focused on the initiative's sole objective should survive the final edit, but that a "quick and dirty" just to get something into circulation won't work very well, either. To be clear, the only thing that the proposed amendment should do is to place constitutional limits on the legislative session, and perhaps on the legislator's salaries, but anything beyond that is overreach. I say "should do" because, so far as I'm aware, the Committee to Restore Michigan's Part-Time Legislature is still making final edits to the petition language before submitting it to the Board of Canvassers for approval as to form.
There's some serious consideration being given to including in the initiative an amendment to Article IV § 12, to fix legislator's salaries at $35,000 annually (to be adjusted for inflation after every decennial census), which I think has merit, but that's as far as it should go. I'm aware that those drafting this initiative are wrestling with considerable temptation to monkey with other sections of the constitution to place additional restrictions upon the legislature (such as staff sizes and expense accounts), as well as overhauling the aforementioned term limits train wreck. The temptation to any tweaking beyond what I've already specified ought to be strongly resisted; there're reasons for this.
First, the Constitution (regardless of whether federal or state) isn't the place to go into specifics. The Constitution is the place to plainly set forth sound principles and robust boundaries, and that's it. The rest is to be handled by appropriate legislation or internal caucus rules, as the case may be. Such is the nature of a constitutional republic. Second, packing too much into an amendment initiative risks running afoul of the Schuette Precedent that sent the RMGN initiative down in flames not a half-dozen years ago; one topic per initiative . . . period. For now, let it be enough to focus on fencing in the legislators so as to limit their opportunities to instigate mischief, and perhaps dialing back their salaries enough to discourage private enrichment at public expense, and the rest will follow in due course.
Not surprisingly, the day after Skubick's op-ed was published, no less a political luminary than Dennis Lennox weighed in on the matter (as published in The Morning Sun out of Mt. Pleasant). Once we filter through the quite predictable vitriol of ad hominem assaults and red herring distractions, the substantive objections of Dennis the Menace distill thus:
The absence of a full-time legislative presence will catastrophically derange the checks and balances of a representative republic.
Constituent service would become almost non-existent, because for most of the year a legislator would be a private citizen with next to no resources at their disposal.
Because the people who make public policy will have to look elsewhere to make a living, we can soon expect an ethics crisis to occur.
. . . from which he concludes that the potential "cost to representative government and democratic accountability" is just too high, and thus that we must "just say `no' to" the entire concept.
Hoo, boy, where do I start with the rebuttal?
I'll start by pulling from the comment section of that article and expanding on the thought. How are the bureaucrats, or the elected executives to whom they answer, to enforce laws that don't exist? How are honest rule-of-law judges to render an opinion, if there are no laws upon which that opinion is to be based? For that matter, why will the lobbyists be stalking the halls of the capitol building, if there is no legislature in session for them to lobby?
A quick review of the Michigan House Session Schedule Calendar for 2013 and the Session Schedule Calendar for 2014 shows us that the House was (or will be) in session for only 106 days during 2013, and plans to be in session for a mere 93 days during 2014, or an average of 99.5 session days per year for the entire 97th Michigan Legislature (~27.26% of the entire biennium). Do we believe that our republican system of checks and balances somehow became unhinged this past year and we not know about it, or do we reasonably expect that to happen next year? Do we believe that the legislator's constituent services were somehow inadequate this past year, or do we expect it to atrophy next year? Did we observe last year an ethics issue that we believe wouldn't have happened had the legislature merely been in session at least three days each week all year long?
To the contrary, as Colonel Agema has himself observed, the legislature is at its most dangerous when actually in session. As it is, a review of the House Calendar, the Senate Calendar, and the Committee Bill Records, coupled with a little bit of advanced searching, shows us that, as of last Thursday's adjournment:
1,896 = total bills that have been introduced thus far during 2013
183 = total bills that have been enrolled (having passed both chambers) and sent to the Governor's Desk (of which, 180 have been signed into law as public acts, and 1 has been vetoed . . . as of December 3rd)
217 = total bills that are currently on the senate and house floors, combined, which can be voted upon at any time between now and the anticipated sine die adjournment at noon on December 19th . . . or even at any time between now and the anticipated sine die adjournment of the legislative cycle on December 18th, 2014
1,471 = total bills that are in committee (senate, house, or conference), which can be brought to the floor at any time between now and the anticipated sine die adjournment of the legislative cycle
. . . which doesn't, by the way, include resolutions. (A much more exhaustive list of this year's legislative action can be found here by plugging in 1/1/2013 in the "from" box and 12/6/2013 in the "to" box. Keep the Excedrin handy; you'll need it.) And if that isn't bad enough, note that current policy allows legislators to have five additional requests (bills and resolutions) per month processed by the Legislative Service Bureau, which means that we could potentially have 148 × 5 × 12 = 8,880 additional proposed legislations introduced through the 2014 lame duck session. That is way too much potential mischief for my taste.
I'm of the opinion that the most effective way to reduce the legislative carnage wrought is to constitutionally confine the legislative sessions and constitutionally eliminate legislative carryover. More specifically, I submit that the Michigan Part-Time Legislature Amendment Initiative should stay focused on the following changes to Article IV § 13 of the Michigan Constitution:
The legislature shall meet ANNUALLY at the seat of government IN REGULAR SESSION on the second Wednesday NOT EARLIER THAN THE FIRST MONDAY in January of each year at twelve o'clock noon. Each regular session shall adjourn without day ("SINE DIE"), on a day determined by concurrent resolution, NOT LATER THAN THE LAST FRIDAY OF MAY IN THE SAME YEAR, at twelve o'clock noon. SUCH REGULAR SESSION SHALL CONSIST OF NOT MORE THAN SIXTY (60) CONSECUTIVE SESSION DAYS, SCHEDULED AND CONDUCTED AS NOT FEWER THAN THREE (3), NOR MORE THAN FIVE (5), SESSION DAYS PER CALENDAR WEEK. DURING THE REGULAR SESSION, ALL ROUTINE LEGISLATIVE BUSINESS OF THE STATE MUST BE COMPLETED, SPECIFICALLY INCLUDING APPROVING A BUDGET.
Any business, bill, or joint resolution pending at the final adjournment of a regular session held in an odd-numbered year shall NOT carry over with the same status to the next regular session. ONLY THOSE BILLS IN CONFERENCE COMMITTEE AT THE FINAL ADJOURNMENT OF A REGULAR SESSION HELD IN ANY YEAR MAY BE CONSIDERED OR VOTED UPON DURING AN ADDITIONAL LEGISLATIVE SESSION HELD IN THE SAME YEAR, AND THEN ONLY IF THE REASON FOR THE ADDITIONAL LEGISLATIVE SESSION WILL PERMIT SUCH ACTION, BUT SUCH BILLS SHALL NOT IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCE CARRY OVER TO THE NEXT REGULAR SESSION. ANY BUSINESS, BILL, OR RESOLUTION PENDING AT THE FINAL ADJOURNMENT OF A LEGISLATIVE CYCLE SHALL NOT CARRY OVER INTO THE NEXT LEGISLATIVE CYCLE.
(Just assume that the rest of these bullet points are exclusively in uppercase, boldface type.)
If, after the sine die adjournment of the regular legislative session, a matter arises of such urgent nature as will not suffer delay until the convening of the next regular session (but not extraordinary enough to warrant an emergency session of the legislature under Article V § 15), then the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate may jointly submit a written request to the Lieutenant Governor (or the Acting Lieutenant Governor, if the Lieutenant Governor is absent from the state or otherwise unable to perform his duties) to convene an additional non-emergency session. If the Lieutenant Governor should disapprove of the additional non-emergency legislative session, or fail to approve, in writing, within 14 days (measured in hours and minutes from the time of presentation of the request) then the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate may still convene the session, provided that two-thirds of the members elected to, and currently serving in, each legislative chamber shall meet at the seat of government (or at other than the seat of government, if Article V § 16 shall apply) within 14 days (measured in hours and minutes from the time of presentation of the disapproval) and approve the session notwithstanding executive disapproval, by the immediate conduct of a due and proper "roll call" vote (the names and the votes of the members voting thereon entered into the journal of each chamber) on the question to override the Lieutenant Governor's objection. If either chamber fails to override the Lieutenant Governor's objection, then neither chamber may convene the additional legislative session.
If the additional non-emergency legislative session shall be convened, such session shall meet not earlier than the first Monday of July in the same year as the foregoing regular session, at twelve o'clock noon, shall adjourn "sine die," on a day determined by concurrent resolution, not later than the last Friday of October of the same year, at twelve o'clock noon, shall consist of a maximum of thirty (30) consecutive session days, and shall be subject to the same scheduling restrictions as the regular session. During this session, no bills or resolutions shall be introduced, considered, or voted upon except those clearly and obviously related to the reason for the additional session. However, during the additional session, bills that were vetoed by the governor during the regular session (including by "pocket veto") may be reconsidered for the purpose of a legislative override vote, as provided by Article IV § 33. Any business, bill, or resolution pending at the final adjournment of an additional session held in an odd-numbered year shall not carry over to the next regular session.
There shall be no legislative session of any type conducted between a regular biennial general election of the Legislature and the convening of the first regular session of the legislators so elected or reelected. However, the Governor may exercise his authority under Article V § 15 to convene an emergency legislative session, provided that two-thirds of the members elected to, and currently serving in, each legislative chamber shall meet at the seat of government (or at other than the seat of government if Article V § 16 shall apply) and approve the session by the immediate conduct a due and proper "roll call" vote (the names and the votes of the members voting thereon entered into the journal of each chamber) on the question to approve the Governor's call to convene. If either chamber fails to approve the Governor's call, then neither chamber may convene the "lame duck" legislative session.
If the "lame duck" legislative session shall be convened, then such session shall consist of a maximum of twenty (20) consecutive session days, to be convened not earlier than the second Monday of November and adjourned "sine die," on a day determined by concurrent resolution, not later than the last Friday of December of the same year, and shall be subject to the same scheduling restrictions as the regular session. The constraints specified by Article IV § 28 shall apply to this legislative session, except that those bills in conference committee at the final adjournment of any previous legislative session held in the same year may be considered and voted upon, provided that the reason for convening the legislative session shall plainly and obviously permit such action.
Leadership elections for the upcoming legislative cycle shall be conducted between a regular biennial general election of the Legislature and the convening of the first regular session of the legislators so elected or reelected, conducted at the seat of government (or at other than the seat of government, if Article V § 16 shall apply), but shall not constitute a legislative session, nor shall be conducted on a day (or on days) when the Legislature is otherwise in session, nor shall conduct any business other than the caucus elections for which the meeting was so convened. The Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, being the presiding officers of their respective legislative chambers (the latter in the absence of the Lieutenant Governor), their elections shall be at large within their respective legislative chambers by the members elected to that chamber for the next legislative cycle.
Nothing in this amendment [section, after ratification] shall be so construed as to interfere with the Governor's authority under Article V § 15 to convene an emergency session under bona fide extraordinary circumstances, nor so construed as to dilute the constraints upon the Legislature during such emergency session as specified by Article IV § 28, except as provided in this amendment [section, after ratification] between a regular biennial general election of the House of Representatives and the convening of the first regular session of the legislators so elected or reelected.
. . . and not so much as one sentence more . . . except possibly to amend Article IV § 12 to fix the base salary of legislators at $35,000 annually . . . period. I know that there's more that some of us advocating in support of the amendment would like to do, but I think it wiser that we focus on binding the legislature - with constitutional chains - against their chief source of mischief (while allowing them a prudent amount of schedule flexibility).
If the Committee to Restore Michigan's Part-Time Legislature stays focused on restricting the annual legislative session calendar, then neither constituent services nor interim committee work will suffer (as more time will be available to focus on each), and the campaign cycle may become less odious on its own. Fixing the legislators' base salaries at just a bit more than necessary to cover the annual critical expenses of their primary residence will require them to secure a second source of income if they want a lifestyle even slightly more lavish than the typical working stiff, which will necessarily require them to live under the very laws that they've enacted.
Coupled with aggressive and informed citizen vigilance, the Overton Window will deal with the rest of the legislative nuisances in due course (perhaps quicker than we expect), and subsequent pro-freedom reforms will become easier to accomplish in subsequent election / legislative cycles.