Sunday, February 20, 2005

Part-Time Legislatures

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to break the grip of special interests and the political parties on the state legislature by returning the legislature to a part-time schedule from the full-time schedule it currently holds.

A part-time legislature will also help return democracy to goverment. By making the legislature a part-time body, legislators will need to also have 'real' jobs when not in session. Since the legislature would revert to part-time status, they could be paid considerably less, and as well their paid staff expenses would be less. Most importantly, the legislature would have less time to create new regulation, and less time to overspend the people's tax money. It's certainly not a lock on getting government spending under control, but it will definitely help.

This may seem like a radical proposal, but we need only review the US Constitution to see that the framers of that document clearly envisioned only a part-time, citizen legislature. Article 1, Section 4, Clause 2 states:

"The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day."

This clause was modified in 1933 by the 20th Amendment to read, "The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day."

The framers, and later Congress and the states affirmed through passage of the 20th Amendment, the clear intent that the Congress "shall assemble at least once in every year". Twice has the idea of a part-time legislature been formalized in the Constitution. In fact, reading this passage suggests that the framers, and possibly the later Congress who proposed a modification to it, foresaw a legislature that met FOR ONE DAY only!

Another benefit of a part-time legislature is the idea of "citizen goverment". The framers clearly wanted the legislature to be comprised of average citizens. The "consent of the governed" is also codified in the Constitution, and the idea was that We the People would meet each year to write the laws underwhich we agreed to live. The executive branch, as its name implies, would 'execute' these laws, either as president of the United States or as a state governor.

If the framers could see our now-professional legislatures, they would be shocked.

[This post was also posted at Blogger News Network.]

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