It’s a Delicate Balancing Act at the End of Session

Senators surround Senate President Carmichael to discuss pending legislation during the waning days of the 2019 session. Photo by Will Price, Legislative Photographer.


As the final hours of the 2019 legislative session approach, the climate underneath the golden dome feels a bit different than it has in previous weeks.

Floor sessions are noisier as delegates and senators confer with their colleagues during proceedings, seeking last minute agreement or getting clarification on proposed amendments that might have been submitted to the clerk just minutes before floor sessions began.

Perhaps the most notable change is a general feel of greater focus on the tasks at hand. A large part of the job of both the Speaker of the House and the Senate President is to guide the discussion of bills and amendments by making sure that the remarks of Senators and Delegates are directly related to the matter at hand.

In past weeks, Legislators were often allowed a great deal of latitude as they discussed bills and amendments on the floor of both the House and Senate. This week, though, discussions stick much more closely to the topic at hand, and it has a lot to do with how Legislative leadership is using the process to structure the discussions that are taking place.

Bills that require additional discussion are moved to the bottom of the agenda to allow less complicated bills to be passed first. Motions are made to allow bills to be passed more quickly. And although tensions are running high, discussions are being corralled as much as they can be in order to get things done.

I’m struck by the balance that Legislators are tasked with finding in this situation. On the one hand, it’s vital to how our legislature functions to be able to have robust and full discussions about the bills under review. On the other hand, it’s a prevailing criticism that the process is often held up by discussions that may or may not be productive.

True to form, I’m left with some questions.

How do Legislators determine where that balance is? And, how can citizens participate in finding this balance with them?

Perhaps, as always, it’s a matter of developing relationships with Legislators and making sure that they have the information they need to have an informed discussion about the issue you care about the most.

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