In California, during its 2018 Legislative Session, the Legislature and Governor enacted 1,016 new laws, most of which took effect for 2019. That statistic raises the age-old question, “Is the California Legislature just a bill factory?” We leave to another day the answer to that question and whether the answer is good or bad.
In the meantime, since February 22 was the deadline for introducing new bills for the 2019 Legislative Session, we can at least compare this statistic (i.e., how many new laws the state enacted) to those of other states and leave the reader to ponder an answer to the question posed. In summary, there were just over 15,000 bills that were enacted in the states in 2018 (a few were not in session and therefore did not enact any bills last year).
According to news media reports, and bill tracking sources, the following is a sampling of states that enacted new laws in 2018 and their total number of new laws (spoiler alert: no state came close to California’s total):
Alaska 145 new laws
Arizona 347 new laws
Colorado 424 new laws
Florida 193 new laws
Georgia 15 new laws
Illinois 595 new laws
Kansas 118 new laws
Kentucky 624 new laws
Maine 200 new laws
Massachusetts 343 new laws
Michigan 689 new laws
Minnesota 100 new laws
New Jersey 329 new laws
New York 522 new laws
North Carolina 162 new laws
Ohio 115 new laws
Oregon 153 new laws
Pennsylvania 179 new laws
Tennessee 612 new laws
Utah 486 new laws
Washington 306 new laws
Wisconsin 241 new laws
Based upon this data from other states, California enacted many more new laws than any other state. Although 2018 was a “high-water mark” for the Brown Administration, the state has averaged about 800 new laws annually during the past 15 years.
By way of historical reference, over 1,000 new laws annually used to be the norm, although that was before the era of term limits and bill limits. For example, in Brown’s first two terms, more than 1,200 new laws were enacted annually. In Deukmejian’s two terms, the average was about 1,500 new laws annually. During Wilson’s two terms, the average dropped to roughly 1,100 new laws each year.
During Davis’ tenure, the annual average was just over 1,000 bills enacted, while Schwarzenegger lowered the annual average closer to 800 new laws, which Brown in his second set of terms adhered to as well, except his final year in office.
So, why does California enact so many laws each year? We do not know for certain the reason(s) why. It could be attributable to a number of factors.
For example, is the high number of new laws enacted due to the large number of bill introductions in California versus other states? In other words, are legislators allowed to introduce too many bills in this state versus other states? Or, do too many bills make it through the California legislative process in comparison to other states?
One appropriate answer could be that California has a full-time legislature, which not every state does. California’s Legislature is in session for at least eight months each year, while other states have just 90 or 120 days of session, for example. And, California is the most populous state in the nation. Its large population and the myriad of issues they face may require such a large number of new laws each year.
Obviously, there is more data required in order to get better insights into the answer to the question whether California enacts too many laws. For example, we would need to find out additional details from the others states and make some comparisons, such as the number of legislators in each state, the number of bills introduced each year, the percentage of bills that are enacted, the number of bills legislators are permitted to author each year, how many days their legislatures are in session, etc.
One other interesting data point is the percentage of bills that become law in California. In broad terms, the Legislature introduces about 2,200 bills per year and about 40% of those bills become law. That is a high percentage of bills getting enacted in comparison to the number of bills introduced. At the federal level, for example, less than 5% of the introduced bills actually become law. So, not only does the California Legislature introduce a lot of bills, but also quite a high percentage of those bills become law.
Chris Micheli is a Principal with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli