BY: TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB
Each year, legislative rules dictate deadlines which help make sure legislators are able to finish the work that needs to be done in as close to 60 days as possible. One of the most important ot these deadlines is the 50th day of the session, or Crossover Day.
By this day, all bills must be passed out of their house of origin. For instance, if a bill was introduced in the Senate, it must have gone through committee, have been read on the floor 3 times, and have been voted on by the full Senate. Likewise for the House. If a bill passes, it can move on for consideration or “cross over” to the other chamber. If it hasn’t been voted on, the bill is not allowed to continue to be considered this session.
This week has been a mad dash to the finish line as representatives from both houses scramble to tackle a mountain of bills before it’s too late. Committee meetings are rescheduled to accommodate longer floor sessions, and the full Senate or House is often scheduled twice a day.
As schedules are adjusted to account for the massive number of bills that need attention, it becomes much more difficult for citizens to participate. Legislators are often too busy for meetings and information about schedules and agendas can be unavailable or unreliable.
During this rush, House and Senate Leadership often exercise their power to “suspend the rules” in order to make sure that they are able to pass bills that are high on their priority lists.
Each chamber of the Legislature has the power to make the rules that govern how they do their business. They can also vote to suspend those rules if the choose, effectively giving themselves permission not to follow the rules that they’ve made.
Here are two examples of how this took place on Wednesday:
- Delegate Butler from the 14th moved to suspend the rules and amend a bill relating to medical marijuana on third reading. Usually, bills would only be allowed to be amended on the floor during a second reading. His amendment would have sent the first $5 million of revenue from growers to the PEIA stabilization fund. There were not enough votes in favor of suspending the rules, so rules were not suspended and the amendment was not considered.
- During the passage of HB 4145, the teacher pay raise bill, the House voted to suspend the rule that requires a piece of legislation to be read three times on three consecutive days, allowing them to read it three times in one day and “put it upon its passage” or vote on it.
This power to drastically change the legislative process has a function. It helps legislators get a large amount of bills passed in a short time, but it also poses some pretty challenging questions:
If rules can be suspended in order to pass legislation that is of a high priority for legislators, what motivations might move a bill to the top of that list?
And, in what other ways might this ability to suspend the rules be used to alter the legislative process?
Interested in more articles like this one? Subscribe to The Hub’s Legislative Hubbub email, sent every Thursday during Session. Sign up now »