ANNAPOLIS – With the last General Assembly session of the four-year term behind them, Maryland legislators are getting ready to face the voters, and many no doubt will make the traditional pledge to run on their records. In this, some will have more to talk about than others – especially if the criterion is the number of bills sponsored or co-sponsored.
The last General Assembly showed a huge disparity between the highest and lowest number of bills sponsored by individual legislators – ranging from a high of 709 to a low of 71 during the four year term.
The apparent record-holder is Delegate James W. Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, who either sponsored or co-sponsored 709 bills throughout this term, the most of any legislator, according to a survey by the Capital News Service.
Senator John C. Astle, D-Anne Arundel, was the primary sponsor on 149 bills this term, more than any other primary sponsor. But Astle is quick to say that sponsoring legislation is not the most important part of his job – serving constituents is.
“The ability to get bills passed is probably a measure of your effectiveness,” he said. “(But) quite honestly, most of the bills that I introduce get passed because it just has to be done. It isn’t that I’m a great guy or wonderful legislator.”
Indeed, political observers and legislators themselves caution that the number of bills introduced is by no means the best measure of an effective lawmaker.
For example, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, is commonly regarded as one of the Assembly’s most effective leaders – both for his skill in achieving his party’s agenda and for his mastery of the legislative process.
Yet he and the presiding officer of the Senate, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince Georges, are both at the low end when it comes to running up totals of bills sponsored or co-sponsored. Long-established legislative practice holds that because the presiding officers have such powerful influence over all legislation, they are not prolific introducers of their own bills.
By contrast, during this term, his first as a state senator, John A. Giannetti, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s, was the primary sponsor on 147 bills. He said introducing a large number of bills usually means passing a lot of bills, which he said is the most important factor in determining his effectiveness as a legislator.
“The number of bills that somebody puts in usually correlates with the number of bills that people pass,” he said, noting that of the 33 bills he introduced this year, 16 passed. “So I think it makes me very effective, especially when the proof is in the pudding in the fact that I actually get legislation passed.”
But George Liebmann, executive director of the Calvert Institute for Policy Research, doesn’t agree with that assessment. He said lawmakers who introduce the highest number of bills are not necessarily the best legislators, nor are the ones who’ve introduced very few.
“I think if someone introduces none and if someone introduces more than maybe 20, that’s a bad sign either way,” he said. “The more productive legislators are found somewhere between those extremes.”
Hubbard acknowledges that while he was a sponsor on more than 700 bills over the past four sessions, he doesn’t feel that simply introducing legislation makes him effective.
“Is it important as part of my job that I put bills in?” he asked. “No. The most important part is that I get them out.”
Astle said since he sits on the Finance committee, often times people in the business community ask him to sponsor bills for them. As a result, many of the bills he introduces aren’t originally his idea.
“If you actually look at the bills that I care about, that number would get a lot smaller,” Astle said.
He may not be the only lawmaker to introduce bills that he isn’t necessarily excited about. Bobbie Walton, executive director of Maryland’s chapter of Common Cause, said that she often deals with legislators who are not very interested in the bills they introduce.
“Common Cause has had an experience in my lifetime here, (over the past 12 years), of people who I would say paid lip service to the Common Cause issues,” she said, “because they would introduce legislation that they didn’t seem to be actively working to get out of committee and voted on.”
In the current term, Hubbard leads the pack of legislators who served for all four legislative sessions with the most introduced bills as either the primary sponsor or a co-sponsor. Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, D-Baltimore, came in second with 635 bills. Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D-Baltimore County, had the third highest bill count with 624 followed by Delegates Adrienne A. Mandel, D-Montgomery, and Nathaniel T. Oaks, D-Baltimore, with 613 and 592, respectively.
Busch had the smallest number this term, having his name appear on only 71 pieces of legislation. Delegate John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County, had the second lowest with 85.
Legislation introduced this session ranged from Astle’s bill to prohibit people from using the Internet to hunt animals in Maryland to Giannetti’s proposal to require installation of devices that monitored drunk drivers’ alcohol consumption to Hubbard’s Healthy Air Act, a bill that seeks to restrict emissions of coal-fired power plants.
Of his 709 bills, Hubbard was the primary sponsor on 112. He was co-sponsor on the rest, and said he sees the fact that people want him to sign on to their bills as a compliment.
“It’s a nice thing to say that people like to have me on their bills,” he said. “Maybe because I represent the liberal wing in the Democratic Party, it’s significant that…on co-sponsoring a bill somebody send the message that, you know, ‘Jim Hubbard’s a pretty reputable guy and his name’s on there.'”
David Falk, a professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, said legislators will often add their names to the bigger pieces of legislation that get a lot of attention.
“Often a lot of legislators will jump on when it looks like it’s a popular bill and it looks like it’s going to go through,” Falk said. “A lot of bills have half the General Assembly on them.”
Hubbard said when he is the primary sponsor on a bill he usually doesn’t ask for many co-sponsors unless he’s trying to prove a point, something that Astle said many legislators feel is true.
“A lot of people think that if you have a lot of co-sponsors it makes the bill more likely to pass,” Astle said.
But Arnick said good legislation shouldn’t need co-sponsors to prove its worth.
“I’m not a big co-signer of bills because I think that every idea ought to stand and run on its own with its own person,” he said. “I figure if someone’s got a good idea they can run it on their own (and) they don’t need co-sponsors to make it look good.”
This term Arnick was a co-sponsor on only 37 bills.
The delegate said that he tries to avoid co-signing other people’s bills because of an embarrassing incident. “Once a hundred years ago I co-signed on a bill that I thought I understood and I didn’t,” he said. “And it was embarrassing as all stuff.”
Some legislators will also put bills in at the request of a friend, lobbyist or constituent, even if they don’t think it will pass, Falk said, a practice Giannetti follows.
Giannetti said he feels constituents with good ideas should be able to have them heard in a Senate committee hearing. “If a constituent has a good idea, I’ll be more than happy to put in a piece of legislation for them even if I don’t think it’s going to work,” Giannetti said. “People have to feel that they can have a way to put legislation into Annapolis.”