By Jery Payne
Imagine you’re sitting down to hear testimony at a committee hearing. People are signing up to testify. The committee chair asks the sponsor to explain the bill. And another member says, “I move the bill to the committee of the whole.” The chair says the motion is in order, and you think, “No, it’s the wrong order. The motion is the last part of the hearing. And isn’t this bill supposed to go to Finance Committee? What’s going on?” Someone says, “It’s a supermotion!”
Nope. Although this situation does not follow normal practice, this motion is not a supermotion.
In 1988, the people approved a group of amendments to the Colorado Constitution. These amendments are known as GAVEL, which stands for “give a vote to every legislator.” One of these amendments is Section 20 of Article V, “A motion that the committee report the measure favorably to the committee of the whole, with or without amendments, shall always be in order within appropriate deadlines.” Of course, moving a bill to the committee of the whole is normal practice. But GAVEL made it possible for a person to make this motion at any time without the possibility of the chair ruling the motion out of order. So if a bill hasn’t missed a deadline, it may be considered and moved to the committee of the whole. In other words, GAVEL was intended to stop a committee chair from refusing to schedule a bill. This is known as a pocket veto.
A supermotion still refers a bill to the committee of the whole, but it’s made under House Rule 25 (j) (1) (G), which reads, “If a motion is made that a committee report a measure favorably to the committee of the whole … when such measure is not in the order of business …, then such measure shall be considered by the committee upon its merits.” So a bill can be moved to the committee of the whole even when it’s not being heard as scheduled. This can mean either when the bill has been scheduled on the committee’s calendar but hasn’t been taken up yet or even when the bill hasn’t been so scheduled.
Because of this overlap, confusion is common. In Grossman v. Dean, the appeals court cited both these sources of authority to define “supermotion”: “[A] motion becomes a supermotion under the GAVEL amendment and the House Rule when it is made out of order of the calendared business of the committee.” Neither GAVEL nor House Rule 25 actually use the word “supermotion,” the word itself is legislative slang. So you can’t look it up.
In the example above, the motion is made when the bill has already been brought up by the chair according to the committee’s calendar. So the bill’s scheduled hearing has begun. It becomes a “supermotion” only when a legislator goes over the chair’s head. A supermotion bucks the calendar. This is what makes it super.
Speaking of GAVEL and Grossman v. Dean, the court held that these types of motions can lead to a constitutional problem. GAVEL also has other requirements that need to be met. I’ll discuss them next week.