It’s easy to create a list of bills by author in the Legislature’s bill tracking system. How many of them became law? The bills that became law include a number in the “Law” column, indicating that they passed and received a chapter number in the annual Session Laws.
But the list of ‘laws passed’ is not complete – not because the system doesn’t work correctly, but because it is difficult to account for all the ways that language from a legislator might become law.
Some of the bills could have been incorporated into larger bills, such as an omnibus bill. For example, Rep. Kim Norton was the author of HF512 in 2015, establishing a child support work group. That bill did not pass, but the language was incorporated into SF1458, and passed into law, Chapter 71 of 2015.
Many times, when a separate bill is wrapped into a larger bill, a see reference will be listed on the status screen – but that doesn’t always work.
In 2015, Rep. Norton introduced HF39, designating Highway 14 as the Black and Yellow Trail. If you check the bill status system, it appears to be introduced, referred to committee, going no further. But it passed! (See article 3 of Chapter 287, and a photo of a sign on the completed trail.) It received a hearing and was included in the Omnibus transportation bill that year, even though there was no “see” reference in the bill tracking system.
As a legislator, what if you introduce a bill that is never heard in committee, yet it passes in the other body and is incorporated into an omnibus bill during conference committee? Is that your bill that passed?
Sometimes a legislator introduces a bill identical to one or many other bills - clone bills. If your bill is not the one that passes, is it legitimate to still consider the bill as one you have passed? Scott Magnuson, long-time Senate employee and legislation-watcher, has an opinion. He says no. The chief author of the bill that passes is the one who has done the hard part of taking it through all the committees. "If you are the chief author, you have to be passionate," Scott said.
Rep. Norton agrees with Scott that clones or bills that are filed as a courtesy and were never heard should not be claimed as passing a bill. On the other hand, she noted, “Sometimes an author researches an issue, files a bill, and gets a Senate author--but because of committee budgets or partisan politics, it may not be heard. If heard, it may not be included in the House Omnibus bill...BUT your Senate author may have better luck getting it included on the Senate side and it eventually passes. I believe that House author can/should take credit for that bill.”
A list of laws each member passed also doesn’t account for the work of legislators in committees and in floor session, where they track other members’ bills for language that may harm their districts, or craft amendments that help their districts.
While talking about the difficulty of definitive tracking, Scott Magnuson had a recommendation for every legislator who wants to carefully account for their work each session. Get a really good staff person who will track it for you, year by year.