Page images

failure to confine the exercise of legislative power to measures shown by long experience to be wise and prudent though temporarily inconvenient or disappointing in the production of immediate results.1

Mr. Bryce, on the other hand, attributes most faults of our state legislation (1) to the system of selection by party conventions which favors the entrance of bad men and tends to shut out good men; (2) to the habit of restricting the choice of members to residents in the electoral district, thus excluding much of the best talent in the state; (3) to the fact that the capital of the state is frequently a small town removed from the great cities of the state and thus sheltered from the publicity of the metropolis; and (4) to the fact that while the business which comes before the legislature is important, it fails to excite much interest among the people.

Undoubtedly, one of the most serious defects in our state legislation is due to the want of technical skill in drafting the laws and to the improper adjustment of amendments to the existing law. In the English parliament there is an expert bill drafter, a high-salaried and skilled lawyer, who helps to give the laws the form necessary to accomplish their purpose and assists in fitting them to the older statutes; but in the United States most of our laws are drawn up in a haphazard fashion by irresponsible persons in and out of the legislature. Some of the most important public laws, designed to achieve large reforms of one kind or another, are drafted without remuneration by persons outside of the legislature, interested in the proposed legislation. Another portion of our laws, especially those affecting private interests, are drafted by high-salaried persons in the employ of corporations, and while they are usually wanting in none of the technicalities that make for the accomplishment of their purpose, they often contain clauses whose full import is only understood by the private parties interested in them. Other bills frequently are drafted in a careless fashion by private members who are entirely without any technical legal knowledge, and sadly deficient in their comprehension of the plain terms of the English language.

Some attempts have been made to remedy these technical defects. New York, for example, provides by statute that the temporary president of the senate and the speaker of the assembly

1 1 Proceedings of the American Political Science Association (1907), p. 69.

shall appoint a number of competent drafters whose duty it shall be, during the session of the legislature, on the request of either house, or of a committee, member, or officer thereof, to draw bills, examine and revise proposed bills, and advise as to the consistency and legal effect of any legislation. As a matter of fact, however, this group of supposed experts is by no means always consulted.


The chief cause of bad legislation in a social sense is the pressure exerted on behalf of sinister private interests seeking special favors at the hands of the legislature. "There is hardly one of the many and widely diversified interests of the state," says Mr. Roosevelt, "that has not a mouthpiece at Albany, and hardly a single class of these citizens not even excepting, I regret to say, the criminal class, which lacks its representative among the legislators." The sinister elements are also represented outside of the legislature by organized lobbyists, bringing every imaginable kind of pressure to secure the enactment of special laws. The far-reaching ramifications and the splendid organization of a lobby were revealed by the famous insurance investigation in New York. A powerful interest that wishes to secure some favor will maintain a representative at the state capital for the purpose of becoming acquainted with those members of the legislature who can be reached by one of many influences by social considerations, money, or fear of being defeated for reëlection. On the other hand, corporations are often forced to maintain lobbyists to defeat "strike" bills brought in for the purpose of extorting money from them.3

1 American Ideals, pp. 63-66.

[ocr errors]

Several of the states have sought to rid our legislatures of the undesirable elements by statute. New York, for example, has provided that every person retained or employed for compensation as a counsel or agent by any person, firm, corporation, or association, to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the passage of any bill or resolution, by either house, or to influence executive approval of any such bill or resolution, must be registered every year (before entering upon any such service) in the office of the secretary of the state, and must give the name of the person or association by whom he is retained and at the same time

2 See Readings, p. 482.

3 3 Ibid., p. 484.

[ocr errors]

furnish a brief description of the legislation for or against which he is working. The law requires also every person or corporation to file in the office of the secretary of the state a complete account of all the money spent in influencing legislation during the immediately preceding session. The duly accredited agents of counties, cities, towns, villages, public boards, and public institutions are exempted from the provisions of this law, but penalties are imposed upon all others failing to observe its terms.

The Wisconsin law against lobbyists prescribes that legislative agents or counsels must not attempt to influence members privately, but must confine themselves to arguing before committees and filing printed briefs with the members of the two houses. Undoubtedly this legislation has had a useful effect. An observer of the law of Wisconsin states: "The effects of this law have been most salutary. The lobbyists who formerly frequented the halls of the capitol and crowded the corridors of the hotels from the beginning to the end of the session have disappeared. There is no longer... any chance for the exercise of that sinister influence which, disguised as good fellowship and exerted mainly in barrooms, commits members in advance to the support or opposition to bills of which they know nothing."1

Another important deteriorating influence in our legislation is the lack of practical information with regard to bills brought up for the consideration of the legislature; but happily, however, some serious attempts are being made to remedy this difficulty. New York established in 1890 a legislative library which keeps a careful record of the legislation of all the states, and, in addition to maintaining a well-equipped library, issues valuable bulletins. In 1901 the Wisconsin legislature appropriated a small sum of money for a legislative reference library, and employed Dr. McCarthy, a careful student of economics and politics, to act as legislative reference librarian. Dr. McCarthy began at once a collection of materials bearing upon every kind of measure that might possibly come before the legislature of that state." That body now has at its service a competent expert and a full supply of legislative materials; and any member is at liberty to

The following states now have anti-lobby laws: Missouri, Nebraska, Idaho, South Dakota, and Massachusetts.

2 See Readings, p. 473.

make the widest possible use of the materials and technical assistance at his disposal. This idea has spread to other states and undoubtedly contains the germs of a most important reform.1

To assist further in bringing order out of the chaos of state legislation, Wisconsin created, in 1909, the office of revisor, whose duties are as follows: "(1) to maintain a loose-leaf system of the statutes, separating those statutes in force from those repealed or superseded; (2) to maintain a loose-leaf ledger of court decisions referring to the statutes; (3) to present to the committees on revision of each house of the legislature, at the beginning of each session, bills providing for such consolidation and revisions as may be completed from time to time; (4) to keep an alphabetical subject card-index to the statutes; (5) to formulate and prepare a definite plan for the order, classification, arrangement, and printing of the statutes and session laws; and (6) to supervise and attend to the preparation, printing, and binding of such compilations of particular portions of the statutes as may be ordered by the head of any department of the state." 2

Another method of bringing more definite information to bear on state legislation is being developed in the growing practice of creating special committees to investigate important technical problems, and prepare complete measures for the legislature. Notable examples of this practice are afforded in New York by the Stevens gas committee of 1904, which made a searching study of the conditions of gas manufacture, and furnished the basis for important legislation; and by the Armstrong commission of 1905, which thoroughly inquired into the life insurance business, and made startling revelations of chicanery and neglect of duty on the part of responsible officials, and then instituted important reformatory legislation.3

1 Within recent years departments have been established in Indiana, Rhode Island, North and South Dakota, and Michigan. In the following states: Alabama, California, Nebraska, Iowa, Oregon, Montana, Virginia, Washington, and North Carolina, departments for legislative reference work have been established by the state librarians on their own account. bills creating legislative reference departments were pending in the legislatures of Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Montana. E. A. Fisher, in the Political Science Review for May, 1909, p. 223.

In 1909,

2 American Political Science Review for August, 1909, p. 421.

For the methods employed by the committee, see the extract from a report by the New York Highways Committee in the Readings, p. 471.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

There is one fault in our legislatures which neither technical bill drafting nor changes in political machinery can overcome that is the want of active interest on the part of the citizens at large, and especially their lack of practical knowledge of the work actually in progress in the legislature. Even where the state capitol is in a metropolis, the newspapers give relatively little space to the discussions, excepting the spectacular ones, which by no means always relate to the most important measures in the legislature. It is seldom that debates excite any considerable interest. No very important portion of the population keeps track of the bills of public interest; and, indeed, owing to the complications of procedure, it is difficult, even for the citizen with technical knowledge and a generous leisure, to follow measures through their various stages.

It was on account of this fact that the Citizens' Union of New York adopted a unique device for keeping citizens in touch with the legislative work at Albany which especially affects the metropolis. This Union has a committee on legislation which maintains a bureau at Albany during the entire session and secures, at the very earliest opportunity after introduction, every bill relating to the city itself. These bills are sent to the city, where an expert committee reviews them, considering their social and their technical character. If the committee comes to the conclusion that any especially important bill ought to receive the support of the citizens, it immediately begins a campaign of popular education on the question through the press and by means of the platform. If the committee comes to an adverse opinion, it conducts a campaign of protest.

The committee furthermore publishes an annual report, in which it reviews the measures passed or introduced affecting the city. It also takes up the general public laws relative to the whole state and the city incidentally. This annual report, furthermore, contains the record of each assemblyman and senator at the capital; it gives a complete list of the bills introduced by each; it states which way each voted on every important bill in the legislature; and it concludes with the expression of an opinion on the character of each member as an effective representative.1

1 See Readings, p. 486.

« PreviousContinue »