February 5th, 2016
by Jon Schuessler
The General Assembly needs an overhaul.
It's over-complicated, dictatorial, and knee-deep in
Party posturing. There's simply no room for an honest, democratic
debate about the public welfare.
I provide a caustic overview of the mess that is the Missouri
House which you can view
by clicking here.
However, I think the following
flow chart says it all:
A "simplified" chart of our state House.
Our General Assembly supposedly
gathering of citizen-legislators.
Since they each speak on behalf of an equal
number of people, they should have an equal voice.
That doesn't happen.
The current system doesn't come close. In
fact, I would say that:
A Proposal for Change
- It is hierarchical. There are bosses and
grunts. This goes directly against the idea of equal voices
in the legislature.
- It is opaque. The system is convoluted
and steeped in jargon, which
discriminates against outsiders and newcomers.
- It is partisan. Party power, and the
two-party system, are embedded in the rules. Independent action is
replaced by party policy.
- It is elitist. The system panders to
experts, senior members, and
a lobbyist culture. Laws are not written for the public’s understanding
or benefit. The average citizen – and by extension the
citizen-legislator – is implicitly deemed too ignorant to understand
the “complex” issues that loom over him.
To fix these problems, serious changes are needed. Above all
system needs to be simplified. There also must be
an equal chance for members to contribute and be heard.
Finally, the system needs to be more populist and less geared toward
A sample proposal for the House is depicted below, where the
committees that make laws is cut by two-thirds, from 55 down to 17.
The Proposed Plan
The prominent features of this new plan are as follows:
- Limited filings. Each legislator is only
allowed to file two bills
each during a regular session. This would limit the total bills to no
more than 326, rather than the 1,000 or more that crop up in the
- Limited memberships. There are only 16
Regular Committees, with 10
members each, for a total of 160 people. A legislator may only serve on
one committee, so that everyone has equal
memberships. The Speaker, Speaker Pro Tem, and Floor Leader
will serve on the Budget Committee.
- Even authority in the budget.
Responsibility for crafting the budget
will be divided evenly between all 16 committees.
Final drafts are sent to
the Budget Committee, which will consist of the House leaders and
the vice-chair from every Regular Committee.
- Chairmen cannot bury bills.
Upon receiving a bill, a chairman must hold a hearing within
a week. Recommendations must be made to the sponsor within
- No appointed positions. All committee
chairs, the Speaker, Speaker
Pro Tem, and Floor Leader are elected at the start of the session.
Ballots will use a preference-based voting system that elects all 19
positions at once. Vice-chairs are elected by the
membership of each committee.
- Limited tenure. House leaders and
committee chairmen may only serve in their capacity for one full term.
are not eligible to be elected to any of these positions for the
remainder of their lives.
- Committees have no topic. Each committee
is named after its chairman
(e.g., “The Smith Committee”). Bills do not get assigned by topic;
therefore, special interests are not able to target a specific
committee during a session. Likewise, a small group of legislators are
not able to monopolize a segment of policy based on their claims to
- Bills are assigned evenly. All pre-filed
bills are bid upon by the
committee chairs during a “draft day” at the start of a session. Bills
with multiple bids go to the committee that has the lowest number of
bills currently assigned. If there is a tie, the bill is assigned
randomly by lot. Bills filed later in the session are similarly bid
upon, once per week, with preference given to the committees with less
- Bill authors have the final say. All
changes to a
bill must be submitted to the sponsors. The sponsors then have
three days to either unanimously accept the changes, to accept them
with conditions, or to reject them. If the sponsors cannot agree within
three days, this counts as a rejection of the changes.
Rejection means that the bill goes to the calendar as
drafted, with a committee recommendation of “Do Not Pass”
- A 750-word limit. Bills may not have
more than 750 words. Amendments
cannot break this limit – if you put too much in, you have to take
something out. Appropriations bills are an exception, and have no
As you can see, the plan is to put a lid on the “legal spam”
infected our government, and to distribute power as evenly as possible.
Of course, there are always drawbacks. One of the main
this system is that it does not allow legislators to gravitate toward
committees in their area of expertise. Having the
“best” people reviewing a bill, however, is less important than
ensuring that laws are drafted in a free-thinking, principled setting.
Jon Schuessler is a Volunteer leader in
County, and the chairman for Missouri Volunteers for Government
Political Action Committee (PAC) of the Volunteer Movement. Click
read his bio or contact him.