Increasingly disparaged by political watchdogs, conforming bills may become more of a rarity over the next few years, incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford told reporters Tuesday.
Speaking to members of the capital press corps a week after elections determined the makeup of the 2012-14 House, the Wesley Chapel Republican said he has spoken with his Senate counterpart and given his House budget chief clear orders to limit the use of conforming bills to truly budget related issues.
"We need to do less governing via conforming bills, and we need to make sure there is a better cooling off period for conforming bills so people have the opportunity to see what is in them before they vote on them," Weatherford said.
In recent years, the bills have been used as vehicles to propel controversial legislative issues through the process by lumping them with must-pass budget provisions. The piggybacking of hot-button issues reduces the ability of critics to effectively object because the bills themselves cannot be amended. Lawmakers can only give them an up or down vote.
Opponents say the often-voluminous conforming proposals make it easy to hide items from members of both chambers who are not involved in the intimate details surrounding the budget making process. On Tuesday, Weatherford pledged to reduce their frequency and give lawmakers ample time to digest those that make it through.
"Legislating via conforming bill is not good," Weatherford said. "I think it leads to problems and it should only be for budget related issues and we are going to govern ourselves so we do that."
Conforming bills have grown from relatively simple – and short—directives on how to implement budget items, into complex tomes that stretch for hundreds of pages and include myriad policy issues.
During the 2011 regular session, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, lashed out at Senate leaders including then-Senate President Mike Haridopolos over the proliferation of conforming bills in the legislative process since Latvala last held office in 2002.
A PolitiFact piece confirmed Latvala's suspicions, saying that the number of conforming bill had grown from 30 in 2008 to 43 in 2011. Earlier this year, lawmakers approved 30.
On May 6, 2011, Latvala joined Democrats and a handful of other Republicans to shoot down a pair of conforming bills that were included among the 43 conforming bills lawmakers were asked to approve in the session's final days. One of the defeated conforming bills dealt with a highly fought battle about the licensing of interior designers.
Weatherford said he has spoken with incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and said he believes the future Senate leader shares his concerns. Weatherford said he's informed his Appropriations Chairman, Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, to keep the number of conforming bills to a minimum.
"There is nothing in writing that says this is what conforming language is and this is what it is not, because I think it is hard to nuance that, but I think there is a commitment in the sense that we both recognize we have to govern ourselves better," Weatherford said of his conversation with Gaetz.