by Julie Pelegrin
As the committees of reference swing into action for the 2014 regular legislative session, some legislators may be struggling to raise their committee rule IQ. Following is a short overview of the more important committee procedural rules to help guide you through the coming hours of committee hearings. Except as specifically noted, the procedures described below apply to House and Senate committees.
House Rule 25(i)(1) and (j)(10)
Senate Rule 22(b) and (n)
A quorum for a committee of reference in both the House and the Senate is a majority of the committee membership. A committee cannot take action on a bill or any other legislative matter unless a quorum is present. Passage of a bill, resolution, amendment, or motion requires approval of a majority of a quorum or a majority of those present and voting, whichever is greater.
Committee Meetings and Consideration of Bills:
House Rules 25(j)(1) and (j)(1.5) and 25A
Senate Rules 22(a), (e)(1), and (i) and 22B
The responsibility for organizing and managing committee hearings lies mainly with the committee chairman, but the chairman of a House committee can delegate any duty or responsibility to the vice-chairman of the committee.
Time and Place of Committee Hearings
Each committee must meet at the times and places specified in the committee schedule, but a chairman can cancel a meeting by announcing the cancellation while the House or the Senate, whichever applies, is actually in session and before the meeting is scheduled to take place. In the Senate, if a committee is scheduled to meet upon adjournment, it will meet within 15 minutes after the Senate adjourns or recesses.
A House committee may hold a special committee meeting on another day or at another place or time so long as the chairman announces the meeting as much in advance as possible and while the House is actually in session. Generally, a Senate committee may hold a special meeting only on the committee’s regularly scheduled meeting day. The chairman must announce the special meeting 24 hours in advance and while the Senate is actually in session. There is an exception during the last two weeks of session that allows a Senate committee chairman, with the President’s permission, to call a special meeting on a different day by announcing the meeting as much in advance as possible and while the Senate is actually in session.
Every Bill Must Get a Hearing and a Vote
Every bill that is assigned to a House committee must receive a hearing, consideration, and a vote on the merits at a scheduled committee meeting no later than the deadline for passage of bills out of committee. Although the Senate rules do not include this specific requirement, section 20 of article V of the state constitution (commonly referred to as the “GAVEL Amendment”) requires that each measure assigned to a committee of reference receive consideration and a vote on the merits within appropriate deadlines.
Order of Business
The committee chairman sets the calendar for each meeting. But if a chairman holds a bill for seven or more days without calendaring it, the committee members can force the chairman to schedule the bill. A majority of the members of a Senate committee can simply request, at a regularly scheduled committee hearing, that the bill be scheduled for hearing. House committee members must submit to the chairman at a regularly scheduled committee hearing a petition signed by at least two-thirds of the committee members. A committee member can also force a hearing on a bill by making a motion to refer the bill to the committee of the whole when the bill is not on the committee’s calendar. In this case, the committee must consider the bill on its merits. In a House committee, if the motion to refer to the committee of the whole doesn’t pass, the bill is still pending before the committee for action.
During a House committee meeting, the chairman may limit testimony and discussion on a measure to the amount that he or she thinks is adequate to enable the committee to consider the measure on its merits. The House committee chairman may actually exclude testimony or discussion that he or she thinks is repetitious or irrelevant. The House committee chairman may ask a sergeant-at-arms to remove any person who disrupts the proceedings or endangers any person at a committee hearing.
Although the Senate rules do not directly address the powers of the committee chair to control procedures within a committee hearing, Mason’s Manual, the source for parliamentary procedures in the Senate, supports the authority of the Senate committee chairman to maintain order and decide all questions of order in committee hearings.
Motions, Voting, and Attendance
Only committee members can make motions, and, in the House, each motion must receive a second to be debated. Each committee member, including the committee chairman, must vote on every motion that comes before the committee, unless the committee member has an immediate personal or financial interest in the bill. But the committee chairman does not vote twice to break a tie vote. If a committee member misses three consecutive scheduled committee meetings without being excused, the chairman must report the member’s absence to the floor leader of the member’s party.
No Electronic Participation
Members of committees of reference must be physically present at a hearing to participate. Members are not allowed to participate by telephone or other electronic means.
Final Committee Action:
House Rule 25(j)(3)
Senate Rule 22(f) and (m)
A committee must take a recorded, roll call vote to take action on proposed amendments if at least one committee member objects to the amendment and to take final action on a bill. All recorded votes are available for public inspection.
A committee takes final action on a bill by reporting the bill out of committee, with or without amendments, for consideration by the committee of the whole; referring the bill to another committee of reference, with or without amendments; or postponing the bill indefinitely. In reporting a bill for consideration by the committee of the whole, a Senate committee may recommend that the bill be placed on the consent calendar. A motion to postpone consideration of a bill for more than 30 days or until a date that’s later than the date for adjournment sine die is considered a motion to postpone indefinitely. A bill is also considered postponed indefinitely if a motion for final action on the bill dies on a tie vote, the deadline to report bills out of committee passes, and the bill doesn’t get delayed status.
House Rule 35(e) and (f)
Senate Rule 18(e), (f), and (g)
After a committee has decided a question, including taking final action on a bill, a member who voted on the prevailing side may move to reconsider the question. The procedures for reconsideration vary significantly between the House and the Senate.
In the House, if a motion for final action on a bill dies on a tie vote, the committee doesn’t actually make a decision, so the bill is still before the committee and subject to any further motions without the need to reconsider. But, if the motion does not concern final action on the bill and the motion dies on a tie vote, a member who votes “no” is considered to have voted on the prevailing side and may move to reconsider the committee’s decision. A motion to reconsider in committee requires the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the committee members, except in the last two days of session during which it requires only a majority vote. A member must make the motion to reconsider at the same meeting at which the decision is made or at the next committee meeting. But the committee cannot reconsider the decision after the committee report that includes the decision is signed by the committee chairman and delivered to the Chief Clerk of the House. A committee member cannot prevent delivery of the bill to the Chief Clerk by giving notice to reconsider.
In the Senate, if any motion on a bill dies on a tie vote, a member who votes “no” is considered to have voted on the prevailing side and may move to reconsider the committee’s decision. A motion to reconsider in a Senate committee requires approval by a simple majority vote. At the same meeting at which the committee makes the decision, a member can make the motion to reconsider or give notice of his or her intent to reconsider at the next meeting, unless the next meeting is after the committee passage deadline and the bill does not have delayed status. If the member who gives notice does not move to reconsider at the next committee meeting, the notice is considered withdrawn. The measure remains in the committee until the next committee meeting if there is an outstanding notice to reconsider.