The Maine House and Senate are scheduled to hold their 2021 sessions at the Augusta Civic Center (motto: “Elvis Played Here Back When His Career Was on the Skids”), because their traditional venue, the Statehouse, can’t accommodate the social distancing necessary to prevent spreading COVID-19 and stupidity.
The city of Augusta, which owns the civic center, is charging the Legislature about $4,000 a day (the price includes free hot dogs for all participants). If the session lasts around 60 days, that’s nearly a quarter-million bucks that nobody has bothered to budget.
Fortunately, there are some simple ways to cut down the time legislators require to do their important business.
First, pass a rule that says any senator or representative who asks to be recognized during debates and begins their speech with, “I hadn’t intended to speak on this subject” will be immediately ejected from the proceeding and banned from the building for five days. Without exception, all the verbiage that follows this tired phrase only proves the speaker’s initial decision to remain silent was correct.
That change alone will reduce the legislative session by at least four days.
While getting rid of unnecessary blather, legislators can also ban “I have many years of experience in this area” (particularly unwelcome when the bill in question deals with prostitution, manufacturing crystal meth or bestiality) and “As I have repeatedly said” (it was bad enough the first time).
That’ll save another couple of days.
Next, the Legislature can cancel all ceremonial events. Start with the governor’s State of the State speech. Former Gov. Paul LePage sometimes substituted a written statement, rather than actually showing up to speak. LePage did this mostly out of spite because he was angry at legislative leaders, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea. When the cuts also include the states of the judiciary, the Corrections Department, the welfare system, the environment, the economy, and pastry consumption during the pandemic, that will shave a week off the rental bill.
Now comes the hard part. The Legislature is likely to consider more than 1,000 bills this year (far fewer than normal). Many of these measures will be ridiculous (impeach Gov. Mills). Others will be unworkable (repeal the law of diminishing returns), unconstitutional (make the news media stop saying bad stuff about us), or untouchable (actually reform the legislative process).
That cuts the tally down to a couple hundred proposals, which in an average year would be drafted, given public hearings, voted on in committee, debated in the House and Senate, passed or defeated, sent to the governor, signed or vetoed, re-debated, re-voted and, well, you get the idea.
Cutting down this time-consuming process is essential, and the way to do it is for the Legislature to only consider sensible bills. Those would include the state budget, pandemic relief, a bond issue or two, and a ban on those civic center hot dogs (some of which are leftover from that Elvis concert). Well-meant proposals to establish an official state massage technique (“I got this idea while I was on vacation in Florida with Bob Kraft”), or to designate conservatives in Portland as an endangered species, or to hire a couple of big guys to stitch a facemask on Sunday River Brewing Co. co-owner Rick Savage (without anesthesia) would be summarily dismissed.
Too bad about that last one, but sacrifices must be made.
With this clutter-free docket, an entire legislative session needs to last no more than two weeks. If Senate President Troy Jackson could be prevented from making speeches, it could be completed in seven days.
That seems like enough cutbacks. As the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter (!) once said, “I don’t like a man to be too efficient. He’s likely to be not human enough.”
And with the money saved, everyone in the state could receive a free hot dog made from the same stuff as our laws.
Hold the entrails, but not your comments emailed to [email protected].