How Many Bills Can State Legislators Introduce?

By MultiState Associates | December 21, 2015

By Liz Malm and Ryan Maness.

Did you know that some states limit the number of bills state legislators can introduce? State limitations can change from year to year, so we've gathered the data on per-legislator bill introduction limits for the upcoming 2016 legislative session.

Thirty states have no limit on the number of bills that lawmakers may introduce for 2016, while sixteen states have established some kind of restriction. Check out the map below to see how your state compares. (We’ve excluded the four states that don't have a regular session scheduled in 2016.)

MSA - Bill Number Limit - 2016

The nature of these limitations can vary significantly from state to state. Some have established simple per-legislator bill caps, such as California restricting legislators to 40 bills per biennium and Colorado keeping lawmakers to five. Other states (AZ, LA, MT, TN, & VA) base their restrictions on the date: Arizona legislators have unlimited introductions until the fourth day of the session, after which they are limited to seven introductions. Still others place limits based on the chamber (FL, HI, IN, OK, TN, VA, & WY), with the Senate typically allowed to introduce more bills than the House. Several states (CT, IN, ME, & WY) vary their limits by whether it is an odd or even year, typically corresponding to either a budget or non-budget session.

Not surprisingly, states with these restrictions consider fewer bills overall. The chart below shows total bill volume in state legislatures over the past year to date.

Bill Volume 2015

Other factors impacting a state's bill volume includes the number of legislators on the roster, how often the legislature convenes (Texas' enormous bill volume is attributable in part to the legislature only meeting once every other year), the length of the session (Arkansas’ and Oregon’s sessions in even-numbered years are abbreviated, budget-only sessions with fewer bills), or the population (less-populated states like as AK, DE, MT, ND, SD, and VT tend to have less bill volume than more populous states like NY).

Where did these limits come from? Legislatures are likely trying to limit the legislative volume in an effort to hold down administrative costs and to help ensure that legislators are able to give each bill its due attention. They’ve been around for quite awhile, too—the National Conference of State Legislators reports that bill introduction limits time have existed for decades, with Nebraska appearing to begin the trend in 1971.

A 1985 Los Angeles Times article provides further insight into the rationale behind the policy. Driven by the huge number of introductions from the previous year (a single legislator had introduced 143 bills), lawmakers argued that establishing limit was essential to keeping down the capitol's administrative costs.

The activity levels of…lawmakers who flood the system with legislation have become controversial in the Capitol. It costs an average of $4,000 to introduce and process a bill, critics say, so the record 6,394 measures introduced during the 1983-84 legislative session cost taxpayers more than $25 million.

These costs will have only gone up in the last thirty years. An article from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle from 2011 reported that per bill costs could range from $453 to $39,795, with the dollar value increasing with the length, complexity, and controversy of the bill. (It’s important to note that these costs will necessarily vary by state, given the differing legislative procedures, salaries, and other factors that vary by state).

For more content like this, follow Liz and Ryan at @elizabeth_malm and @RyanLManess, respectively.

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