Voter Question Prompts Discussion of Weekend Warrior Legislative Schedule

An interested voter sends me this question through my campaign contact form:

What are your thoughts on increasing the pay for legislators, or even going to more of a full-time legislature? It seems like the current structure makes it difficult for people who are not business owners to join the Legislature [voter question, 2016.10.04].

My response:

I won’t spend much time raising legislator pay until I know we’ve raised teacher pay enough to be competitive.

That said, the same market forces apply to recruiting legislators as to recruiting teachers. As you suggest, if the pay and the hours don’t compensate people for the sacrifice they make to serve, you’ll have fewer talented people making that sacrifice. More pay and better hours mean more applicants for any job. And I agree with you that the current schedule and pay make it hard for anyone other than retirees or business owners who can set their own schedules to run and serve. Even for business owners, it’s tough having to put business on hold or find someone else to run the shop in from mid-January to mid-March.

I wouldn’t support going full-time… simply because we probably don’t need legislators meeting ten or twelve months a year. But I have suggested a “National Guard” schedule: spread those 35–40 Sessions out across a weekend or two a month, then wrap up with a two-week solid meeting in early June, after school lets out. That would allow more working folks to stick with their regular jobs, take just a couple days off a month from the office, arrange child care, etc. It would also give legislators more time to check in with voters and seek input while bills are moving through the Legislature. Voters would have more time to study bills, launch grassroots campaigns for or against bills, and go to Pierre to testify. The National Guard schedule might require moving the start of our fiscal year to August or September, but that’s not impossible [Cory Allen Heidelberger, response to voter question, 2016.10.05].

I’m open to your thoughts. Legislators and candidates, would a Weekend Warrior schedule make it easier for you to serve in Pierre?

21 Responses to Voter Question Prompts Discussion of Weekend Warrior Legislative Schedule

  1. The Legislative sessions are long enough. The tough issues are ignored till the end of the session. As far as teacher pay , there is a lot of other workers that need a boost in pay before we need another tax in crease on food and other needs for teacher pay.

  2. W R Old Guy

    I would not support an increase to legislative pay until the legislators disclose their full compensation for their work. This would include all the perks paid by lobbyists (including the lobbyists client(s)) and the mileage compensation for travel to/from Pierre.

    I believe the sessions are long enough and in some cases too long. We do not need a full time legislature.

  3. Troy Jones

    Certainly something new CH.

    My reaction is the citizenry focus on legislative matters will diminish because it is spread out vs. the concentrated timeframe. Plus, it will never feel like we are watching in real-time but more like a movie that keeps getting put on hold.

  4. Considering the quality of the legislation originating from Pierre over the past few years, I’m not so sure we wouldn’t be better off if they had a single two week session. It would force them to prioritize and stop devoting time and energy towards issues which have been discussed and voted on many times before.

  5. I will disclose every penny that is paid to me by the state, including mileage.

    I am interested in this Weekend Warrior schedule. Would it be worth while to set up committee hearings in remote locations like Sioux Falls, Aberdeen or Pine Ridge?

  6. Greg, I’ll put other workers in line before legislators for raises… but how man of those workers are like teachers in that the Legislature can directly raise their pay?

  7. Troy, I’d contend the real-time current process too often turns into rush process. Weekend Warrior schedule gives us at least couple weeks between House passage and Senate Committee hearing, maybe more.

    MC, I wouldn’t mind field hearings around the state. The question would be whether we could get a quorum of committee members in one convenient location. Field hearings could become as much of a travel burden and cut into day-job work time, thus negating the advantages of the spread-out schedule.

    WR, is not all legislator compensation already public record? But hey, send me to Pierre, and like MC, I’ll tell you every penny I get from your tax dollars and for what purposes.

  8. If we are going to be discussing riparian buffers along the Big Sioux, doesn’t make sense to have field hearings in Brooking, Dells Rapids, or even Watertown. So those most affected can voice their opposition or support. The same with Native American issues, let’s hold hearings on the reservations. Let’s make it easy for people to testify

  9. Donald Pay

    Troy and I agree on this. There’s a lot more to the legislative process than the legislators.

  10. Oh, MC, totally: if we’re looking at involving local participants and experts (as Donald says, the legislative process involves more than just legislators), absolutely, field hearings make sense. Let’s make time for legislators to conduct information-gathering sessions, so folks don’t have to drive exclusively to Pierre to testify. As long as we don’t require a quorum—save the decision-making and required attendance for session in Pierre—let legislators hold those field hearings.

    Interim committees hold hearings like that now. The Blue Ribbon K-12 panel followed this model a bit with their preliminary listening sessions. Under a Weekend Warrior schedule, we could more easily schedule such field hearings during the Session, when citizen testimony is all the more urgently needed.

  11. W R Old Guy

    CAH, Do the legislators have to report informational presentations put on by lobbyists where food and drink are served? I know there are many days that lunch is served by different organizations from around the state. One of the organizations I belong to charters buses to bring members from all parts of the state to Pierre to chat with their legislators. The lunches I have been to are served in the rotunda.

  12. Mr. Old Guy, I have heard that there are gifts galore and not only lunches but private dinners and drinks and fancy gatherings almost every day. It sounds very wonderful.

  13. Donald Pay

    Citizen testimony for the session is best taken in Pierre. Yeah, you can move interim committee hearings around, but those are targeted toward one issue, and there are multiple hearings, and you can always comment when the hearing the interim committee meets in your part of the state. That ain’t going to happen during the session when there are 500 bills to hear, and they often get heard once.

    If you had field committee hearings on one bill in Sioux Falls, west river citizens would likely not be able to give testimony. You can make a 7:45 am committee in Pierre from anywhere in the state by getting up by 4:00 am. I did it a lot. Lots of citizen testimony occurs because Pierre is centrally located, and people can get there in 4 hours or less. Move the committee hearings from that central location and you allow the legislative leaders to screw around with scheduling to shut out public input. Awful idea.

  14. WR, I don’t think legislators have to report any such things… but perhaps MC and I can use our blogging powers once elected to report the sources of our daily bread.

    Donald’s opposition will definitely make me think twice about making a big deal of field hearings. Perhaps I need to get back to my original principle. The benefit of the spread-out Session is allowing legislators to get back to their jobs during the week. The idea is not to have them spend a weekend in Pierre in formal session, then go back home and spend two straight weeks in committee hearings. Maybe citizen input during the off-days remains in the form of crackerbarrels and candidate coffees… not to mention good legislator blog presence!

  15. Mr. Pay, what would happen with supporting staff clerical and such if these hearings were scattered hither and far and could they use youtube or something so everybody could listen in? Would the legislatures be able to mark up the bills and post their things on bulletin boards on time? I am just wondering if removing all the fancy trimmings and trappings of the legislatures and having law bills pass committees in one morning in Madison and then have to be heard on the floors the next afternoon would work. Or if the legislatures were all spread out over the whole year would would happen with the budgets and school teach pay and things? Would it be late getting to the good teachers?

  16. Donald Pay

    A lot would have to change in SD to spread the session over a year. Wisconsin does that, by dividing out floor sessions, which count as legislative days, from committee hearing days, which don’t. Wisconsin’s Legislature is “full-time,” but they do very little real work on Mondays and Fridays. Only the leadership is in Madison full time. Most legislators are in Madison only Tuesday-Thursday. Sometimes there are committee hearings on Monday. Most hearings don’t start until 10:00 am. Essentially, our legislators are lazy, except when they are collecting money for campaigns. Then they work extra hard at hobnobbing.

    When I lived in Wisconsin in the 1970s the legislature was not corrupt, and was responsive to citizens. When I moved back here in 2001, the legislature was thoroughly corrupt and was owned by the big lobbyists. It has gotten much, much worse since Walker took over.

    There is somewhat of a push here to go back to a part-time legislature that meets only a limited part of the year. I’m for that.

  17. Donald, if full-time is unnecessary in Wisconsin, it’s definitely unnecessary here.

    Grudz, I’d restrict field hearings to gathering information, taking testimony. We won’t have the problem you foresee of transmitting actions taken back to Pierre. Even if we did have committee votes at field hearings, we wouldn’t be sending bills back to Pierre for votes that same day, because the legislators would all be in the field.

    Of course, we could go whole hog on making it easier for citizens to serve by conducting the Legislature by teleconference. Have committee meetings by Skype or GoToMeeting on Tuesday nights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Have full House/Senate Sessions on Thursday nights from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. Do that 30 weeks a year, combined with 5–10 days when all members assemble at the Capitol.

    As for budget schedule, sure, we might have to move our budget calendar a little. Under the Weekend Warrior schedule, we can get everything done by June 30. I think we discussed budget impacts before, that schools and state agencies may need more heads-up time to plan around actual appropriations, which means we could move the fiscal year to start August 1 or September 1, or we could require the Legislature to pass a budget by May 1, then restrict any further legislating done in May and June to items with no budgetary impact… or include all essential services in the May 1 budget, then allow the Legislature to appropriate additional funds up to 10% (5%) of the May 1 appropriations.

  18. I floated this idea among a few people, and I got mixed responses.

    For those that work in an office setting, they would be able to flex the time off, and they would be able to spend more time on the job.

    For farmers, Late March, April, and May is a busy time of year, every minute not spent in the tractor is costing them money.

    I have my complainants about The Blue Ribbon Task force. However, I believed they worked the process right. They traveled the state, took in public input, developed a series of bills, then put those bills in the hopper the next session, where it was quickly debated, amendments were offered, the bill passed then signed into law. If more bills followed this process, then the current session would work just fine.

    What happens is we get legislators who dump bills in the hopper, including a few surprise bills. Then we scramble to research the bills and the facts, we end killing what would be good bills and rushing through horrible bills.
    Let’s talk about the issues and the bill before a they are presented. Let’s put forth the best bills make the best use of legislature’s time.

    I all for using technology for public input, we can set up teleconferences, skype, google groups, even Facebook.

  19. Donald Pay

    I like most of MC’s points. Technology can already be used to keep pretty good track of bills through the LRC website. This technology has made it possible for me to track SD’s Legislature, even as I track bills in Wisconsin. When I lived in Pierre I checked the committee boards every afternoon to let folks in other places know when bills were going to be up in committee. You can do that now from the LRC website, so things are a lot more transparent than they used to be. Still a lot more could be done.

    LRC could add a function on their otherwise excellent website for citizens to comment directly on bills. Those comments could then be directed to committee members and/or the entire Legislature.

    Why not require requests for bill drafts from Legislators, the Governor, and the agencies have to be disclosed on the website on the day they are requested? That would give everyone a heads up as to what is coming up.

    I’d also require that any bill or any major amendment (including hoghouses) must go back to the committee of origin for hearing. No more surprises at the end of the session, or any other time.

    I’d end the introduction of bills that are essentially blank and meant to be hoghouse vehicles.

  20. I agree with Donald that carcass bills should end. Every bill should get the full four-hearing treatment, with two committee opportunities for citizen input.

    I agree with MC that those last-minute surprise bills are a problem. A spread out Session alleviates that problem to some extent.

  21. If legislators where to have more listening sessions, cracker barrels, and the work with other legislators they could almost have the entire session wrapped up in two weeks.

    The key is getting these bills out in front of the public weeks/months before the session starts and making legislators visible and available during the same time