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McKenna: Title-only bills aren’t what constitutional framers had in mind

Title-only bills will soon be challenged in court. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

They’re strangely called “Title-Only” bills. Essentially, the Legislature passes what was only a few moments before a blank piece of paper. While it sounds like something a child would do to avoid completing their homework, it actually relates to recent constitutional loophole and allows legislators to stealthily pass potentially controversial bills.

Former state Attorney General Rob McKenna joined Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross to explain what the Senate is up to.

“It’s designed to get around a provision in our 1889 Constitution Article 2 Section 36, which says that ‘No bill shall be considered in either House unless the time of its introduction shall have been at least 10 days before the final adjournment of the Legislature, unless there is a two-thirds vote to do,'” McKenna said. “Here there is nowhere near two-thirds.”

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“So what they do is they drop a bunch of ‘title-only’ bills. In this case, the title simply was an ‘Act relating to tax revenue’ with no content.”

The purpose of this old constitutional provision is to ensure that you can’t ram through a bunch of last minute bills that nobody’s read. The new ‘title-only’ loophole becomes like the IOU of congressional legislation, with the actual text added later through amendment.

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“The authors of our Constitution and founders of our state didn’t want the Legislature to push bills through at the end of the session, when there wouldn’t be enough time to review and deliberate them,” McKenna said. “It’s a 105-day session of the Legislature, and on the 103rd day, all of a sudden the bill is brought up in committee in the House and they amend it by adding the actual text. Now suddenly the act relating to tax revenue has some meat on the bones.”

Title-only bills are not what constitutional framers had in mind

Clearly, this is not something the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they created the 1889 provision, but that hasn’t stopped Congress before.

“It’s a classic workaround that has been around a while. There were 26 ‘title-only’ bills introduced this session; only four of them ended up being used and two of them were for tax increases that were pretty controversial,” he said. “I think this violates the spirit of the Constitution, if not the text, and I would argue that if a bill is ‘title-only’ it really isn’t a bill in the sense that the legislature should be considering them, and in the sense that the framers of the Constitution meant it when they wrote the law.”

“I don’t want our democracy to be ‘title-only,’ either, and it just isn’t good for public confidence.”

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