BY: KATELYN CAMPBELL, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT POLICY VISTA, THE HUB
The Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate each have a tremendous amount of power over the way their respective legislative bodies operate. Both have the power to appoint members to committees, to remove members of committees, and to guide discussion. But on the House side, the Speaker has a unique power with the potential to radically shape discussions on the floor – the power to determine what is germane.
The Legislature’s definition of the term “germane” is pretty similar to the one you’d find in a dictionary. According to Merriam-Webster, the word germane means “being at once relevant and appropriate.”
The definition is simple enough, but it’s also broad. With so much leeway, it puts a lot of power in the hands of the Speaker, especially since the definition of “relevant” and “appropriate” could vary widely from person to person.
As delegates discuss bills, argue their support or opposition, and suggest amendments, the Speaker is required to determine whether each remark made or amendment proposed is appropriate and relevant to the purpose of the bill they are considering.
If a remark is ruled not germane, the delegate who is speaking and all other delegates must not continue to talk about topics in that remark. In the case that a proposed amendment is ruled not germane, it is not allowed to be voted on.
Tim Armstead, the current Speaker of the House, has used this power several times this Session as discussions surrounding PEIA have mounted in intensity.
Last Thursday, discussion of HB 4625 relating to PEIA began to turn toward a debate on the merits of the Affordable Care Act and its possible relationship to nationwide increases in healthcare costs. As tensions started to rise, Speaker Armstead determined that this discussion was not germane, and directed members wishing to speak to contain their remarks to the specific bill at hand.
Said the Speaker, “I know I’ve given some leeway to try to have the discussion of how we got to where we’re at, but I believe we’re getting a bit far afield of the bill at hand.”
Choosing where to draw a line like this is difficult — a Speaker must consider the title and contents of a bill, how the discussion will impact their party, what drawing the line will mean for robust debate of about the impact of a bill, and how much time they expect the discussion might take.
But decisions about what is and isn’t germane have us wondering – how can a Speaker effectively keep members on task while making sure a full discussion of each bill before the House is held? And, if something is determined to be “not germane,” what’s being left out of the conversation?
Interested in more articles like this one? Subscribe to The Hub’s Legislative Hubbub email, sent every Thursday during Session. Sign up now »