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State lawmakers copied 10,000 bills from model text
USING THE PROCESSING POWER equivalent to 150 computers running non-stop for several months, a group of journalists has quantified the extent to which state lawmakers borrow from model bill texts – which are often backed by industry or ideological groups.
Over the past eight years, 10,163 bills out of the nearly 1 million introduced in state legislatures were almost entirely copied, and there are untold other bills whose ideas – but not the precise language – came from model bills, according to the two-year investigation by USA Today, The Arizona Republic, and the Center for Public Integrity.
There is nothing inherently wrong with model legislation. Advocates from various points on the political spectrum use the tactic. When partisan gridlock prevents passage of federal legislation, lobbyists look to state capitols to adopt their proposed policies.
The story references proposed taxes on sugar-laden drinks as one example of legislation that borrows from model bills.
“We’ve seen success in a lot of local municipalities on passing a sugary drink tax. No state has done it, so Massachusetts certainly has the opportunity to be on the early end of that,” Perron said. “There are several states that have proposed it, including all the ones that surround us.”
Perron’s comments also get at one of the conceits of policymakers in Massachusetts and no doubt other states — to be the ones to create the model. It’s hard to spend very much time on Beacon Hill without hearing someone referencing how the state constitution was the template for the national one, or how Romneycare begat Obamacare.
The big data story includes some graphics that indicate in Massachusetts the majority of prepackaged legislative proposals don’t come from ideological organizations on the left or right, but from industry groups.
In Massachusetts, the door is wide open for the filing of legislation. The 200 lawmakers can file legislation throughout the two-year session, and certain other government officials have the power to introduce bills in the Legislature. State reps and senators usually file bills at the request of constituents even if they don’t agree with the proposed policy – designating that those bills were filed at the request of that person.Other states have more limited legislative sessions and some have offices tasked with turning elected officials’ ideas into legislation. The copycat bill story published Thursday will land in the midst of legislative sessions for the majority of states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures calendar, though the sessions in Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming have already ended. Of the roughly 10,000 bills that copied proposed text, more than 2,100 were signed into law in recent years.
While there might not be anything nefarious about using model legislation, it seems like a public good to shine a spotlight on the practice. Lawmakers rely on lobbyists because they have the proposed solutions at the ready, along with talking points and experts to make the case. Now the public has some data to understand that dynamic a little better.