Rep. Jim Walsh’s bill looks to end the practice of title-only bills

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, prefiled legislation today in Olympia for the upcoming 2020 session that seeks to end the use of title-only bills, often called “ghost-bills.” Title-only bills contain a title or intent statement—but no content. Legislators amend the bills with text later, often when it is too late for the public to review or comment.

The 19th District lawmaker calls the use of title-only bills a parliamentary trick that circumvents the intent of the state constitution and the public's right to scrutinize proposed legislation. 

“The most important aspect of my bill is this: protecting the public's access to the legislative process,” said Walsh. “Lawmakers found a way around our state's constitution, which prevents bills from being introduced 10 days before the end of session. But being clever doesn't make you right. Title-only bills evade the public's right to review and speak out against or for bills. That's wrong.”

During the 2019 session, legislators introduced 26 title-only bills, four passed. Two were for controversial tax increases—including one which affects out-of-state banks currently being challenged in a lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court. 

Although new legislation may not be introduced less than 10 days before the end of a legislative session, bills introduced before the 10-day deadline may be amended. This constitutional loophole allows legislators to introduce bills with a title only and no text, amending them later with content and details. Title-only bills are often hurried through the legislative process during the final days or hours of the session, giving legislators and the public little time for review and deliberation.

House Bill 2190 looks to stop the use of title-only bills by requiring that legislation be introduced at least 72 hours prior to a public hearing. Other elements of Walsh's bill include:

  • Proposed substitutes and striking amendments must be publicly available 72 hours before a vote by a standing committee, or either the Senate or House of Representatives.
  • Standing committees must provide at least 72 hours' notice prior to a public hearing.
  • Bills may not be voted on by a standing committee or either chamber unless given a public hearing in a regular or special session during the same calendar year.

“We need a return to the spirit of our state's constitutional protections. Any substantive piece of legislation should be available to legislators and the public to review, debate and comment on at least 72 hours ahead of any vote or action on the floor of the Senate or House,” Walsh said.

“Good government is transparent and open to the public, ” he added. “The voters of Washington state must have an opportunity to access and comment on legislation before it's voted on by the Legislature. This bill assures that the public has that access.”

The 2020 session, scheduled for 60-days, begins Jan. 13.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov