Bending the Rules in the Home Stretch

Senators discuss legislative strategy as the end of the session nears. Photo by Will Price, Legislative Photographer.


As the legislative session comes down to the wire, citizens in the gallery and at home will notice that there are a few things that function a little bit differently during floor sessions.

In order for a bill to be passed out of either the House of Delegates or the Senate, legislative rules dictate it must be read three times on three consecutive days before it’s put to a vote- mostly.

As time gets tight, legislators can vote to bend these rules to allow themselves to review as many bills as possible. In order to do this kind of rule bending, a Delegate or Senator must make a motion to bend the rules in the way they want to. Once a motion is made, a majority of the members must vote to uphold the motion before it can go into effect.

Here are a few of the ways that this has impacted this week’s proceedings:

  • Postponing action one day

Legislators may move to postpone action on a bill for one day at a time. One reason to do this might be to pause the bill while a Legislator finalizes an amendment that they would like to propose.  

  • Advancing bills to third reading with the right to amend

This happened on Wednesday with SB 4. It was moved that the bill be advanced to third reading, with the right to amend reserved for Delegate Pyles and Delegate Howell. That means that only amendments offered by these two Delegates and amendments which were already in the system will be discussed when the bill is read a third time. Legislators could do this for a number of reasons, including moving the bill along faster or wanting to keep discussion on the bill focused to a few amendments that have already been offered.

  • Reading a bill three times in one day

Legislators might do this when a deadline is fast approaching and they need to move legislation through quickly. If they do this, they still must receive amendments and discuss the bill at each stage or “reading” as if it is occurring separately.

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?

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