Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Legislative choice: status quo or renewal?

This falls into the category of serious reflection: A survey of legislators, staff members and legislative lobbyists on how the General Assembly views itself, its work and its prospects for the future.
The results are published in the current issue of Popular Government, the journal of the School of Government at UNC Chapel Hill, and it’s a thought-provoking look at an institution that for much of this state’s history was the dominant branch of government. Click here to link to the 12-page article.
The survey was conducted by some smart people – David Kiel, an organizational consultant to government agencies and my old classmate at Carolina back in the late 1960s, and Tom Covington, former head of the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division and former head of the late, almost unlamented Progress Board.
Kiel and Covington performed this research in 2003 and ‘04 for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. It’s just now getting into print in Popular Government, but its findings are interesting, and timely. Many thought the legislature performed well, given the political challenges it faces. Some respondents thought the legislature was good at reacting to short-term problems, but not at long-range planning and not always at careful deliberation, either. One respondent described the place as “dysfunctional” and another thought “we have hand-to-hand combat around partisan interests.”
All this brings the legislature to a crossroads, the authors say. “Will it be business as usual or renewal?” The norm seemed to be “quick-fix, run-on legislation; the decline in decorum and comity among members; the increase in partisanship; the concentration of power; and the unremitting demands and influence of perpetual fund-raising.”
Renewal would require specific steps, the authors write. Among them:
*Enacting laws “that contain solutions to specific situations and needs instead of offering an expedient, political quick fix.”
*Creating “strong initiatives for legislative oversight and program evaluation to ensure that legislative solutions are effectively implemented.”
*Adopting laws “that ensure the highest levels of fiscal responsibility, accountability and integrity in the face of a political process that is increasingly competitive and money driven.”
*“Setting new standards for Senate and House floor and committee debate and discussion... that result in more informed decisions and ... reduce partisan bickering.”
*Removing barriers that “narrow the range of those who can serve in the legislature” – including reexamining salary and other compensation, staff support, demands of the calendar and full- or part-time status.

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