By Julie Pelegrin
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “committee of the whole” as “the whole membership of a legislative house sitting as a committee and operating under informal rules.” But just what are those rules and how informal are they?
Committee of the Whole
House Rule 32
Senate Rule 28
Second reading begins with a motion that the body resolve itself into the Committee of the Whole for consideration of either general orders or special orders. In the Senate, the motion may also be for consideration of general orders – consent calendar (see explanation below). When the motion passes, the Speaker of the House or the President steps down and selects a legislator to preside over the Committee of the Whole. The chair of the Committee of the Whole has all of the powers of the Speaker or the President that are necessary to conduct the business of the Committee. By rule in the House and by custom and practice in the Senate, the chair of the Committee of the Whole does not vote except to break a tie.
The procedural rules of the House and the Senate apply to the proceedings of the Committee of the Whole, except:
- A legislator may speak more than twice on the same subject;
- A legislator may not call for the ayes and noes, (i.e., a recorded vote), but a legislator may request a standing vote, known as a division, before the chair announces the outcome of the vote;
- There’s no appeal from a decision of the chair; and
- In the House, by rule, a motion for the previous question, which would cut off debate, and a motion for reconsideration are not in order. This also is true in the Senate, but by custom and practice, not by rule.
The Committee of the Whole may amend a bill, pass a bill, reject a bill, refer a bill to a committee of reference, or lay a bill over for consideration on another day. All votes taken by the Committee of the Whole are voice votes, unless a Representative or Senator calls for a division before the chair of the Committee of the Whole announces the vote. In that situation, the chair takes a standing vote, first of all those in favor of the amendment or bill, and second of all those opposed to the amendment or bill. The greater number standing carries the vote. Voice votes and votes taken on division are recorded only as pass or fail; the actual names or numbers of Representatives or Senators voting on each side are not recorded.
Consent Calendar – Senate only
Senate Rule 25A
The Senate can deal with several bills on second reading with a single vote by using the consent calendar. The consent calendar is used only for noncontroversial bills that do not require substantial debate or substantive floor amendments. The Majority Leader, after consulting with the Minority Leader, decides which bills are placed on the consent calendar, usually based on recommendations by committees of reference. Once a bill is placed on the consent calendar, if a Senator objects at the microphone to including the bill on the consent calendar, the bill is removed from the consent calendar and placed at the end of the general orders calendar for that day.
The Committee of the Whole considers the bills on the consent calendar just like the other bills, except there is no substantial debate or substantive floor amendments allowed on consent calendar bills, and the Committee of the Whole takes a single vote on the consent calendar, which adopts or rejects all of the consent calendar bills on second reading.
The House does not use a consent calendar.
Amendments in the House – Settled Questions
House Rules 28 and 34
In the House, if the Committee of the Whole takes final action on a bill, an amendment, or a committee of reference report, either by adopting or rejecting it, the same Committee of the Whole cannot take a later action that would defeat or resurrect the same bill, amendment, or committee of reference report. This is known as the “settled question” rule, and it prevents the Committee of the Whole from amending the same language twice or from amending language that the Committee has already approved.
Because of the settled question rule, when a bill sponsor moves a bill in the House, he or she must first move the bill, then the first committee report, and then the second committee report, if there is one. The House will then consider any amendments to the second committee report before adopting or rejecting the report, then any amendments to the first committee report before adopting or rejecting the report, and finally any amendments to the bill before adopting or rejecting the bill. If a Representative has an amendment to the first committee report, and that report has already been adopted, the amendment is a settled question and the chair will likely rule that the amendment is out of order.
Each amendment must relate to the same subject as the original bill. If a Representative offers an amendment to a pending amendment or offers a substitute amendment to a pending amendment, the offered amendment must be germane to the subject of the pending amendment. For example, if a Representative offers an amendment to change the amount of a fee in the bill, another Representative cannot offer an amendment as a substitute to the pending amendment that would change the date on which the bill takes effect. But another Representative may offer a substitute amendment to the pending amendment to strike the fee requirement from the bill.
Each substantial amendment must be printed and distributed to the House members. In practice, this means that, if a Representative wants to offer an amendment that is longer than a page, the Representative must turn the amendment in to the Chief Clerk of the House no later than 4:30 p.m. the day before the bill is heard on second reading. During the Committee of the Whole, a Representative may move to lay a bill over so that the amendments that have been offered on the bill can be printed and distributed to the members.
An amendment to strike out the enacting clause of a bill takes precedence over any other motion relating to a bill. The amendment opens the question of passage of the bill to general debate and, if the amendment passes, the bill is dead.
Amendments in the Senate
Senate Rules 5 and 25(h)
In the Senate, to offer an amendment to a bill in the Committee of the Whole, a Senator must have the amendment typed and must turn it in to the Secretary of the Senate, who numbers each amendment in the order in which it is received.
The settled question rule does not exist in the Senate. The Committee of the Whole in the Senate can amend the same language in a bill multiple times, and the last amendment that the Committee adopts is the one that is enrolled into the bill for consideration on third reading.
When a Senator presents a bill to the Committee of the Whole, he or she moves the bill and then moves the first committee report and the committee either adopts or rejects the first committee report. If there are other committee reports, the bill sponsor moves each of those reports, and the Committee either adopts or rejects each report when it is moved. Then the Senators individually move their amendments, whether to one of the committee reports or to the bill, in the order that each amendment was turned in to the Secretary. The Committee must consider every amendment that is turned in to the Secretary unless the sponsoring Senator withdraws the amendment.
As in the House, an amendment to strike the enacting clause takes precedence over other amendments to a bill. Passage of an amendment to strike the enacting clause kills the bill.
Updated Fiscal Notes
House Rule 32A(c)
Senate Rule 25(e)
In the Senate, upon the request of five or more members, the legislative council staff will update the fiscal note for a bill that may have a significant effect on the revenues, expenditures, or fiscal liability of the state. If requested, the bill cannot pass on second reading until the fiscal note is updated.
In the House, a request for a revised fiscal note requires at least 10 Representatives. As in the Senate, once the updated fiscal note is requested, the bill cannot be considered on second reading until the updated fiscal note is prepared.
Committee of the Whole Report
House Rule 32
Senate Rules 17(e), 17(f)(1), 25(f), 28(e), and 28 (g)
Once the Committee of the Whole completes its work, a person – usually the majority leader – moves that the Committee rise and report. If the Committee isn’t actually done, but is taking a break and coming back on the same day or on the following day, the majority leader will move to rise and report progress and beg leave to sit again. Both motions are decided without debate. If the motion is to report progress and sit again, when the Committee returns, it resumes its work where it left off.
When the Committee of the Whole finishes and rises and reports, the actions the Committee took on every bill that it considered, including the amendments adopted on each bill, are summarized in the report of the Committee of the Whole. The person who chaired the Committee moves that the House or the Senate, as the case may be, adopt the report of the Committee of the Whole.
The report of the Committee of the Whole is similar to a report from any other committee – the body that adopts the report can amend it. In the case of the Committee of the Whole report, an amendment to the report reverses the action that the Committee took with regard to a bill or amendment. For example, a legislator may move to amend the Committee of the Whole report to show that a bill or amendment that the Committee passed did not pass. Or a legislator may move to amend the report to show that a bill or amendment that the Committee rejected did pass. In the Senate, a Senator may move an amendment to the Committee of the Whole report to show that an amendment that was not actually offered in the Committee of the Whole passed. The House will only consider amendments to the Committee of the Whole report that affect amendments on which the Committee voted.
Each amendment to the Committee of the Whole report and the report itself requires the affirmative vote of a majority of the elected members to pass: 33 votes in the House and 18 votes in the Senate. Each legislator’s vote on an amendment to the Committee of the Whole report and on the report itself is recorded. In the Senate, a Senator may request a recorded roll call vote on any individual bill that is included in the Committee of the Whole report.
Each bill that passes on second reading is then engrossed or revised and calendared for consideration on third reading. Engrossing, which occurs in the first house of introduction, and revising, which occurs in the second house of introduction, means that all of the amendments to the bill that are included in the adopted Committee of the Whole report are typed into the bill to create a new version of the bill: The engrossed version in the first house of introduction and the revised version in the second house of introduction.
House Rules 32 and 35(d)
Senate Rule 18
In the House, a Representative cannot move to reconsider a decision made by the Committee of the Whole. And an amendment to the Committee of the Whole report and adoption or rejection of the Committee of the Whole report and any bill included in the report are not subject to reconsideration.
In the Senate, a Senator cannot move to reconsider a decision made by the Committee of the Whole. However, a Senator can give notice of the intent to move to reconsider or move for immediate reconsideration of an action taken on an amendment to the Committee of the Whole report, the adoption or rejection of the Committee of the Whole report, or the adoption or rejection of a specific bill included in the Committee of the Whole report.