If you surveyed state legislators, legislative staff and registered lobbyists about their perspectives on the legislative process, you might expect to receive some insider, wonky responses.
You would not expect to learn that most legislators are sleepdeprived.
Two researchers from Washington State Universitys division of governmental studies and services, Nicholas Lovrich and Francis Benjamin, conducted such a survey in 2009 and again in 2012. They discussed their findings last week at a lunchhour panel discussion sponsored by Secretary of State Kim Wyman and the governors office.
At absolutely no shock to anyone in the room, the research found a huge gap between how state lawmakers view the quality of Washington states legislative process, and how the public staff and lobbyists see it.
Lawmakers think they are open to exploring potential new insights while the public believes they rely heavily on facts and what is known. Lawmakers think they make decisions based on objective logic while the public perceives decisions based on individual values or beliefs.
The disparity in perception might arise from another interesting finding of the survey that the public couldnt be expected to know: The burgeoning number of bills introduced each session is leading toward an unsustainable workload.
Eighty-five percent of all legislators feel the legislative workload has increased, both during and outside of annual sessions. Legislators report working an average of 65 hours per week during session and 31 hours per week the rest of the year.
The in-session workday averages just more than nine hours per day, seven days per week for 15 straight weeks during a biennium year when sessions last 105 days. Thats a tough schedule for anyone, even those without the stress of performing in the public spotlight.
As a result of the sessional workload, lawmakers are losing sleep. A strong bipartisan majority of lawmakers reported sleeping six hours or less per night during the session. Almost all of them slept more than six hours outside of session, according to the survey.
The data also revealed lawmakers felt at their best from 8 a.m.-1 p.m., which is slightly disturbing because recent state budget hearings have all been scheduled in the late afternoons.
Doing the math on an annual basis, legislators report working 40 hours per week year-round. What our founders conceived as parttime public service has turned into a full-time job.
Its a fair question to ask whether the overwhelming task of reading and understanding the several thousands of bills introduced every year is affecting the quality of legislation in this state.
The dirty secret in Olympia is that no lawmakers read every bill. Its shocking, I know. Lawmakers might even vote on a bill they dont fully understand.
During a panel discussion, several of the present and former senators and representatives suggested limiting the number of bills during a session because there is simply too much to do in a short period of time.
Theres an idea floating around Capitol Campus to build in a mid week break for lawmakers and staff to recharge. Other state legislatures take days off.
For part-time pay, we demand a lot from state lawmakers. The WSU survey shows us just how much, and the price its taking.
I dont know about you, but Im all in on urging lawmakers to find a way to stay wide awake.
George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .