Wednesday, January 24, 2007

For those of you who were holding your breath, the new Senate rules

We’ve finally tracked down the new Senate rules (they’re not posted on the Senate website yet, even though they were adopted more than a week ago), and not surprisingly, the changes were meager.

First off, it appears that the Senate is trying to save some trees, as several of the tweaks simply reduce the number of copies of certain documents that must be filed.

Here are some of the more substantive changes:
  • Any senator can now be approved by the committee chair to speak for five minutes on a nomination being considered.

  • The rule prohibiting people with a stake in legislation from being on the Senate floor was strengthened to explicitly apply to people who would be allowed under other circumstances. This essentially means that senators’ family members or former Senators who are now lobbyists are not allowed on the Senate floor.

  • Instead of requiring a majority of all senators, a motion to petition a bill out of committee may now also be made to a standing committee. This means that a majority of committee members can approve moving a bill out of committee, even over the objection of the committee chair.
Unfortunately, the Senate also made some changes that can hardly be considered positive reforms:
  • There is now a thirty minute limit on the amount of time a particular senator may speak during the four hours of debate allowed on each bill.

  • Senators are not allowed to direct motions to petition at the Rules Committee. The Rules Committee is where the Senate leadership sends many bills to die, so this exception severely weakens the impact of the rule allowing members to petition committees instead of the full Senate.
While we appreciate any steps in the right direction, we are disappointed that the Senate Majority, after rejecting the Democrats’ attempt to institute comprehensive rules changes, did not significantly improve the way the Senate does business. The sparse reforms they did adopt do little to make the Senate a more deliberative, accountable, and responsive body.

Here is a red-lined pdf of the new rules (see the bookmarks for quick links to the revised sections).

Categories: General, Legislative Rules

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