Weighing What Congress Could Learn From State Legislatures

Mon, 2019-09-23

By Bill Lucia, Senior Reporter

Route Fifty

Congress, often deadlocked on key issues in recent years due to partisan divides, may be able to learn a thing or two from state legislatures.

State lawmakers and other experts familiar with state government offered some of their thoughts Monday on an effort that’s underway in the U.S. House to look at ways the chamber’s rules, policies, procedures and operations might be updated and improved.

“We believe there is a wellspring of experience and knowledge from beyond the beltway that deserves to be explored and potentially applied to Congress,” said John Richter, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Congress Project.

The Bipartisan Policy Center is working to support and provide recommendations to the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. The Democratic-controlled House established the committee in January. It’s set to continue its work through the end of the year.

A panel event the Policy Center held Monday aimed to examine some ideas from state legislatures that the committee might be able to incorporate into its work.

Ohio state Senate President Larry Obhof, a Republican who was among those who spoke at the event, stressed the importance of building across-the-aisle relationships.

“The most important thing they could learn is how to get along with each other,” he said of his counterparts on Capitol Hill. “I’m not sure that there’s a specific process, or set of rules that I would say would benefit that one way or another.”

Obhof noted that a key piece of budget legislation recently cleared the Ohio Senate in a 33-0 vote with bipartisan support. He said he and other Republicans made extra efforts to reach out to Democrats to hear them out on their amendment proposals.

The end result, he said, was legislation in which almost all lawmakers could find provisions that they supported and others that they opposed. “It was an ongoing process of give and take between both parties,” he said. “I think that's what's missing in Washington.”