A Citizen’s Guide to Parliamentary Actions

WV Legislative Photography, Photo by Perry Bennett

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB

As West Virginia’s 60-day legislative session moves toward its conclusion, we’re beginning to see parliamentary actions happen on the floor that aren’t often part of the process in the early days of the session.

Earlier in the session, bills that are simpler are more likely to reach the floor for debate. Simple, in this case, means two things: 

  • First, there is general support for the bill, so it’s more likely to pass without a need for much debate.
  • Second, that the bill didn’t require numerous amendments and continued consideration. 

 

Later in the 60-day session, it’s more likely that complex bills, which may have divided support or require a greater level of consideration, will make it to the floor. This means that instead of letting bills sail through the process with resounding support or overwhelming opposition, legislators must take extra time to debate each bill’s pros and cons. 

They use an array of parliamentary tools to do so:

Request to Yield to Questions

This action is used throughout the session to help legislators understand the content of bills, amendments. Any legislator who has a question can request another legislator – who is usually the sponsor of the bill or amendment, or the chair of the committee which has last reviewed the bill – to answer their question. This is called asking the legislator to yield. Legislators may refuse to yield if they do not wish to answer questions.

Motion to Lay a Bill Upon the Table

This motion may be made about motions, bills, or amendments that are being considered. Essentially, it ceases discussion on whatever topic is before the House or Senate immediately and removes it from the agenda. Topics may be brought back, or taken from the table, but only when a motion is made to do so and that motion passes.

This is a tool that legislators who oppose a piece of legislation may use to try to “kill the bill.”

Motion to Postpone Action Indefinitely

If passed, a motion to postpone indefinitely removes a piece of legislation from consideration and stipulates that it will not be placed on the agenda again in this session.

There are a few exceptions to this, but this is often the final action used to kill a bill.

Request for Ruling on Whether an Amendment or Discussion is Germane

One rule that is used to maintain a fair and equitable process for reviewing legislation is the rule that all discussions and amendments related to bills must be germane.

Germane means that something is directly related to the original purpose of the bill. If a legislator thinks that something is not germane, they can request a ruling from the Speaker or the President, who will determine whether or not the amendment should be entertained, or the discussion should continue. 

Motion to Reconsider a Vote

This motion has very specific criteria in order to be considered. In order to request a reconsideration of a vote, a legislator must have voted on the prevailing side of the question. For example: If an amendment passed, and I would like to have the body reconsider that vote, I can only make a motion to do so if I originally voted to pass the amendment. 

This is relatively rare, and it’s even rarer that a motion to reconsider a vote passes and the vote is actually reconsidered.

Citizen lobbyists know that while it can be difficult to understand every aspect of parliamentary law, you don’t need to understand everything in order to know how a few key tools can impact how bills you care about move through the policy process. 

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