Editorial: Block “title-only” bills to improve transparency, public participation in budget process

The hasty budget wrap-up, with surprise tax increases and late-night legislative action, has prompted calls for process reform. The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin editorial board writes,

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, wants an end to a parliamentary trick used to get around the state constitution and the glare of public scrutiny. Walsh is calling for an end to the use of title-only bills…

The state constitution prohibits the Legislature from introducing a bill with fewer than 10 days before the end of a legislative session. This stipulation was imposed so that lawmakers couldn’t rush something into law without the public’s knowledge or the ability to comment.

To circumvent this requirement, legislators use the title-only-bill gambit — essentially filing bills that are blank pages that can be filled just before the Legislature adjourns….

Walsh’s proposal, aside from banning title-only bills, includes a requirement that committee of the Legislature can’t hold a public hearing on a bill unless the bill has been publicly introduced at least 72 hours before the public hearing.

This is exactly the kind of transparency the Legislature needs. Walsh’s effort should be embraced.

We’ll see. As the Washington Research Council wrote in a budget wrap-up post,

…in the fog of the last few days of session, some bills were enacted that were not included in the estimated outlook and some bills that were included were not enacted.

A little more time and transparency would improve the state’s budget process and allow the public the opportunity to participate, as the constitution envisioned. What’s wrong with that?