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Partisan politics not in play with most legislation

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Every year sometime in February, a longtime friend of ours calls to complain about all the “goofy” bills that are being introduced in the Legislature. His screed includes a complaint criticizing the highly partisan nature of the Legislative process. All he sees in the media are reports of the high profile, politically-charged proposals that are introduced and debated. What he doesn’t see is the normal, day-to-day legislative process where so much of the Legislature’s business gets done.

Barry Aarons

Barry Aarons

Most legislation comes from citizens, businesses, organizations and associations who are confronted by a specific problem that needs redress. They look at their options at the state and political subdivision level. They look at their legal opportunities and whether court action might address the issue. And frequently they decide that fixing a perceived statutory deficiency is their best option.

And, in most cases, these bills are not controversial, are not highly partisan and are not picked up by the media. They are simple solutions to direct problems where a consensus of the stakeholders come together and agree on a compromise. And commonly the Legislature is all too happy to agree.

How do I know this? Because it is a statistically provable fact.

Every year we look at the numbers. For a bill to get signed into law, it must get a third read vote in both chambers. If the bill is amended at any point in the process in one chamber, it needs to get a final vote in the opposite chamber before it goes to the governor for a signature. We’ve looked at all these third read and final pass vote tallies for multiple years. And every year the same thing jumps out at us.

Elise Kulik

Elise Kulik

In the recently concluded 1st Regular Session of the 53rd Arizona Legislature, 49 percent of all those votes were unanimous. That’s right, out of 30 members of the Senate and 60 members of the House, there wasn’t a single negative vote cast against them! In addition, 72 percent of all third read and final pass tallies received over 75 percent of the votes. And finally, of all third read and final pass counts, 78 percent received more than two-thirds of the chambers’ support. Those numbers have held fairly consistently in the three years we have been doing a statistical analysis of legislative vote counts. The unanimous number always hovers just a hair below 50 percent.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t a significant number of bills that never get a hearing or that never get past a certain point in the process. If you look at the recently concluded session you’ll find that of the 1,079 bills introduced, 353 passed and 11 were vetoed. For memorials and resolutions there were 101 introduced and 42 passed. In other words, about 35 percent of all bills introduced actually passed.

But statistically, when a bill successfully navigates its way through the process, it does so with a disproportionate amount of legislative support.

So, the next time you hear your family member or neighbor chiding the legislative process for being overly partisan, ridiculously controversial or unable to resolve the problems that confront us in today’s world whip out this article, share the numbers with them and break into a smug grin. The process still works!

— Barry Aarons owns The Aarons Company, a lobbying and consulting firm. Elise Kulik is a legislative assistant at The Aarons Company.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

2 comments

  1. Indeed, we are in the land of post-partisan politics, in Arizona. Lobbyists like the authors have the Legislature and the legislative process well in hand.

    Partisanship isn’t the problem, folks. In fact, were the legislature more partisan, it would demonstrate that the parties matter, that there is critical discourse taking place between and among legislators. The fact that so many bills pass into law unanimously is a cause for concern, not congratulations.

    The dramatic effect of campaign contributions (many if not most from out of state) and paid-for advocacy on both parties is the problem. It would take inordinate courage for a lobbyist to admit that — so the authors haven’t. Instead, they drag a red herring across the money trail. Well done, lobbyists.

  2. This article is lobbyist propaganda. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but of course a lobbyist wants us to think that everything is cozy, so we can just relax knowing that our legislature is taking care of us. This leaves legislative influence to the lobbyists. Mr. Aarons offers the fact, (I assume he’s telling the truth), that most bills are not controversial, to suggest the process works better. This logic is problematic for a few reasons: First, agreement does not necessarily mean that it is in our best interest. Second, it is the relatively small number of the most controversial bills that matter most. Third, it ignores the lack of controversy that comes from intimidation, deal making, and response to campaign contribution needs that every legislator has.

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