After the gavel drops: understanding floor sessions

Delegate Roger Hanshaw calls a floor session of the House of Delegates to order. Photo by Perry Bennett, Legislative Photographer.

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB

If you’ve never sat in the gallery during a floor session of the Senate or House of Delegates before, the proceedings can be a bit overwhelming. However, like most of the processes that take place at the Capital, once you know the rules, it’s much easier to follow.

Floor sessions follow the same format each day, so you’ll always know what to expect. They generally begin at 11 am, but can be called at another time at the request of the Speaker of the House or Senate President. Here’s what you’re hearing after the gavel comes down:

  • Call to Order, Prayer, and the Pledge of Allegiance
  • Introduction of Guests– Senators and Delegates introduce constituents, family members, or friends who are in attendance.  
  • Reading of the Journal– The Clerk of the House or Senate begins reading the journal – a detailed record of the previous day’s floor session. Unless there are corrections to be made, this is interrupted by a motion to approve the journal without reading it, which generally passes unanimously.
  • Reports from Standing and Select Committees*– Committee Chairs report any bills that have passed out of their committee. They will say whether the bill received any amendments or was rewritten and will recommend that the bill pass (bills that aren’t recommended to pass don’t make it out of committee).
  • Resolutions – Actions which do not require the Governor’s approval are brought up at this time. Generally, this is when the Senate or House agrees to make it something like “Children’s Day at the legislature” or formally recognize an individual or group for service to the state.
  • Motions and Petitions – Motions are actions proposed by members of the Legislature and petitions are proposals which are made by a large number of citizens at once.
  • Bills Introduced – New bills are introduced at this time. As the list is being read, a Senator or Delegate will interrupt to move that the bills be considered introduced without each of them being read on the floor. Instead, bills are referred directly to the relevant committee.
  • Bills on Third Reading – Bills on third reading are ready for a vote. Senators or Delegates will take time to discuss each bill before calling for a vote and determining whether it will got to the Governor to be signed into law or vetoed.   
  • Bills on Second Reading – This is a second opportunity for bills to be explained and discussed before the final vote is taken.
  • Bills on First Reading – Bills that have passed out of committee are presented to the Chamber. The Committee Chair generally explains the bill and members discuss its flaws or merits.
  • Messages from the other Chamber* – The Clerk will read any messages from the other Chamber of the Legislature. For example, the Senate President may send a message to the Speaker of the House listing bills that have been passed out of the Senate and are ready to begin being considered by the House.
  • Messages from the Executive* – The Clerk will read any messages from the Governor.
  • Miscellaneous Business – This is a catch all for anything else that needs to be addressed.
  • Movement to Adjourn and Announcements – Committee Chairs announce the time and location of upcoming committee meetings. While staff work hard to keep the website as up to date as possible, times and locations for committee meetings can change quickly and often the best way to stay informed is to hear it directly from the Chair.  

 

* The Senate reviews messages from the House and from the Executive prior to receiving reports from standing committees.

Floor Sessions might be governed by very rigid rules, but they can still provide valuable insight into what your legislators are focused on, whether it’s the guests that they introduce or the discussion they offer on bill readings. For more information about this and other processes at the Legislature, take a look at this Citizens Guide.

One last note: You don’t need to be at the Capital to see what’s happening on the floor of either the Senate or the House. Both stream live video and audio daily, so you can watch from wherever you happen to be.

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