Legislative Roundup — One for the Record Books

By: Sarah Mercer, Melissa Kuipers Blake, Michael Feeley, Audia Robitaille

This year’s legislative session set a new high-water mark for the number of bills introduced. The General Assembly’s previous record had been 703 bills introduced during the annual 120-day session. State legislators beat that number by 37 this year, introducing a total of 741 bills — a hair over 74 bills per legislator. More than four out of 10 bills failed to pass, in part because many were introduced solely for political “messaging” in a divided legislature where each party anticipates November’s election will be a referendum on the other party. Still, 432 bills passed, a few of which will meet their demise under the governor’s veto pen.

As expected, the highest priorities were also the most politically fraught and were saved for last. Dramatically, compromises between the Senate Republican and House Democratic leadership were crafted at the 11th hour to address — at least partially — the issues facing transportation and the Public Employees Retirement Association.

On transportation, the state is looking down the barrel of a $9 billion project list, topped by an estimated $20 billion maintenance need over the next 20 years. Early in the session, it appeared doubtful the Republicans, who introduced their transportation proposal as the very first piece of legislation introduced in the Senate chamber, Senate Bill 1, were going to get Democrats to vote yes. But in a series of negotiations aided by a favorable spring revenue forecast, the Senate Republicans agreed to reduce the total amount of transportation funding infused into the budget, which Democrats balked at, to $645 million over the next two years. The Republicans also agreed to wait until 2019 to ask voters for $2.34 billion in bonding authority to allow the business community to first send other transportation options to the ballot in 2018.