By Matt Dawkins and Chuck Brackney
We’re in the last few days of the 2014 regular legislative session. If it seems to you that things are moving faster—well, it’s not just your imagination. Due to automatic suspension of some legislative rules, things can and do move faster toward the end of session. This is so the General Assembly can get its work done before the clock strikes midnight on the one-hundred-twentieth legislative day—May 7.
Although the House and Senate Rules can be amended, repealed, or suspended at any time during session with the proper vote, the House, Senate, and Joint Rules allow for automatic suspension of some of the normal rules of operation during the last few days of session. These suspensions generally deal with timing and notice issues so that more work can be accomplished in less time. For example, bills read across the desk can be assigned to committee and the committee can meet on the bill and send the bill back to the floor on the same day without listing the bill in the calendar.
Usually, under Senate Rule 22 (a) (2), Senate committees of reference can only meet on the day specified in the schedule of committee meetings. However, during the last two weeks of session, a Senate committee can meet at a time and place and on a day other than that listed in the committee schedule, so long as the committee chair announces the meeting to the Senate while the Senate is in session and as much in advance as possible.
In the last five days of session, one of the rule suspensions affecting conference committees kicks in. Under Joint Rule 7, one day after a bill is assigned to a conference committee, a majority of either house may demand a conference committee report, which the committee must deliver before the close of the legislative day during which the demand is made. Earlier in the session, the committee has until the end of the second legislative day after the demand to deliver the report. Also, if a bill has been assigned to a conference committee at any time during the session and the committee hasn’t turned in a report, the committee must report the bill out within the last five days of the session.
In the last three days of session, things pick up a bit more speed. During most of the session, a committee chairperson has more time to submit committee reports: Once a committee of reference acts on a bill, the committee chairperson has two or three legislative days in the House or five legislative days in the Senate to submit the committee report to the front desk. But during the last three days of session, House Rule 25 (j) (3) and Senate Rule 22 (f) require both House and Senate committee chairpersons to turn in committee reports as soon as possible following the committee hearing.
Both the Senate and House can also operate on a shorter time line when considering bills that have been amended in the second house. Usually, before either house can vote to concur or reject the second house’s amendments, each member of the first house must have a copy of the rerevised bill and consideration of the concurrence must be printed in the calendar. These requirements, found in House Rule 36 (d) and Senate Rule 26 (a), are suspended in the last three days of session so that the houses can move forward with concurrence or conference committees without waiting for printed copies of the bill or for the consideration of concurrence to be calendared.
Similarly, the reports of conference committees usually have to be distributed to members, printed in the journal, and calendared before the full House or Senate can vote on them. But during the last three days of session, House Rule 36 (d) and Senate Rule 26 (b) allow members to vote on conference committee reports as soon as they are available to their respective front desks—even though the report may not have been distributed to the members and, in most cases, has not been calendared for consideration. The usual practice, however, is to try to distribute copies of conference committee reports to members before the vote.
Also, as time runs out toward the end of session, certain rules affecting reconsideration are suspended. Throughout most of the session, a Senator may give notice of reconsideration, and, under Senate Rule 18 (d), the Secretary of the Senate will hold the bill for which the notice was given for up to two days of actual session. During the last three days of session, however, this rule is suspended, and a Senator cannot hold up a bill by giving notice to reconsider.
And, this year there’s a new rule that changes during the last three days of the session. Earlier this year, the House adopted House Rule 33 (b.5), which says that only amendments that are not substantial may be considered on third reading – unless the legislature is in the last three days of session. During the last three days of session, a Representative may offer an amendment to a bill on third reading even if the amendment is substantial.
During the last two days of session in the house, a motion to reconsider, either in a committee of reference or in the full House, requires only a simple majority vote to pass under House Rule 35 (b) and (e), rather than the 2/3 majority required during the rest of the session.