OUR OPINION: Less time wouldn't hurt Legislature

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi Legislature convened its 2012 session in Jackson on Jan. 3. Last Thursday, Feb. 2, the first bill in either the House or the Senate came up for debate and vote.
That’s 30 days to get the business of the Legislature going, which is a mighty slow start.
There are explanations, of course. It’s the first year of a four-year term, and constitutional requirements for the inauguration of a new governor and swearing-in of other statewide elected officials mean a few days’ delay in organizing the House and Senate early in the session.
The lieutenant governor and House speaker must appoint their committees and name chairmen before the legislative process can begin. But it seemed to take longer this year than usual, particularly on the House side.
Lawmakers were in the Capitol for the better part of the month with little to do, yet were getting paid for being there.
We don’t begrudge the government its pomp and circumstance – the inaugurals and state-of-the-state addresses and other ceremonial events. They’re important symbolically as power is passed amid timeless rituals.
But the time it takes to get cranked up for the real functions of governing seems excessive.
One of the reasons things don’t move faster is that there is the luxury of more time in the first year of a new term. The Mississippi Constitution puts a limit of 125 days on legislative sessions in the first year instead of the 90 days in all subsequent years. Some of that may be necessary, given the requirements mentioned above. But a whole month?
If those running the show had known they had to do their business this year in the usual 90 days, might there have been a greater sense of urgency to get moving? Could the extra 35 days, or some portion of them, be trimmed without putting undue pressure on the process?
Money would be saved; that’s one good reason to do it. Yet the reduction of idle time would also serve to sharpen the focus of legislators as they do the essential work they’re sent to Jackson to do.
Of course, the state constitution doesn’t require that the session go 125 days this year – it simply allows it, just as 90 days is the maximum, not the required duration, for other years. Yet legislators traditionally take all of that time and sometimes more, with special sessions.
All we’d ask is that legislative leaders consider the advantages in these austere times of speeding up the process without damaging the product. Everyone else, after all, is being asked to do more with less.