2011 Session Wrap: States Introduce Less and Pass More in 2011

By Stateside Associates

As the summer months approach, the 2011 State Legislative season is coming to a close. As of June 1, 28 states have adjourned regular legislative sessions.

What have we learned so far? Budget shortfalls and the tide of partisan changes in the 2010 election cycle have influenced the legislative activity in the states.

At the start of 2011 a number of factors set the table for an unprecedented and unpredictable legislative season. Twenty-one state legislative chambers changed majority control from Democrat to Republican, and Republicans picked up 11 Governorships. States were facing huge budget shortfalls. And no one knew what effect the Tea Party movement would have on getting things done in the legislatures.

So looking back – how did these factors affect the productivity in the state legislative chambers?

On average there has been a 10% decrease in the total number of bills introduced during the 2011 session compared to the 2009 session.

However, in some cases, where states introduced fewer bills, legislators were actually successful in passing more measures than in previous sessions. Hawaii introduced 300 fewer bills, but passed 50 more bills than in 2009. Indiana legislators introduced 100 fewer bills and passed nearly 50 more. Mississippi considered 450 fewer bills, but passed nearly 100 more bills than in the 2009 session. Other states like Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska and Texas also saw similar results.

In addition to these increases in the total number of enacted bills, all states have seen a slight increase in the rate of enactment of legislation. In 2009, these states combined to enact 21% of all legislation considered. In 2011, the same states have enacted over 22% of the bills considered.

One of the main contributing factors to the decrease in total legislation is the impact of state budget situations and the current economy. Legislators may have been hesitant to introduce new programs for lack of funding, or impose new taxes and fees to pay for these programs. But the increase in the rate of bill passage shows more consensus in the states.

This consensus is borne out of stronger partisan bonds. In most of the states mentioned above, single party control, and a stronger majority allowed legislative leadership to streamline the agenda of bills for consideration. In other states, fewer bills being introduced may have allowed for more debate on viable proposals which were eventually passed.

Similar trends can be seen in additional states still in session, but we won’t know the full impact until the last states adjourn at the end of the year.

Have you observed similar trends in your states? What other factors may have led states to consider less, but pass more bills? And do you think this trend will continue?

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