Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Amendments and Mark-ups in Committee: The Big Picture

Yesterday, my colleague Larry Norden blogged about the Temporary Committee on Rules and Administration Reform’s draft report -- the good, the bad, and the missing.

We thought we would follow Larry’s statement related to committee amendments and mark-ups (echoed here in a Daily News story) with the research to back it up. We canvassed written rules and interviewed legislative staff in several states to see if any other state allowed bill authors to restrict amendments as proposed by the Temporary Committee. As we told the Committee staff, we couldn’t find a single instance of authors retaining control over the amendments made to their bills in committee, and most states go to great lengths to ensure that committee members have real input on the bills under their consideration. A few highlights:

  • In Connecticut, committee members have the opportunity to ask questions of the bill author or the committee chair and propose changes to legislation during the committee meeting following a mandatory hearing on each bill. Members can, and almost always do, propose amendments verbally.
  • In California, any Assembly committee member may introduce amendments during the committee’s hearing on a bill. The author of the bill may declare these amendments friendly, in which case they are automatically adopted into the bill unless committee members opposed to the amendment force a vote on the issue, or unfriendly, in which case the amendment is subject to a simple majority vote of the committee members present. In the Senate, the rules also allow committee amendments, and the chamber’s rules explicitly state that the chair of a committee “shall permit questions to be asked by members of the committee in an orderly fashion and in keeping with proper decorum” during debate on a bill.
  • In New Jersey, Senate rules dictate that committee members must submit amendments in writing, though amendments that arise during the course of debate on a bill may be introduced and voted on at the discretion of the chair. In this case, amendments will be written and incorporated into the bill after the meeting based on a transcript of the verbal amendment discussed during debate.
  • In Minnesota, debating and reshaping bills in committee is considered an integral part of members’ responsibilities. Committee Chairs generally require that amendments be submitted in writing 24 hours in advance, with an exception for amendments that come up during the course of debate on a bill. In practice, this means that verbal amendments are allowed unless the amendment is too complex for members to consider in an informed manner without a written version, or unless the amendment clearly could have been submitted in advance.

These examples – as well as the rules and practices of several other states that we investigated but do not have room to mention here – show that if the Senate fails to go further in making committees a place where legislation is carefully considered and improved, New York will continue to trail the rest of the nation in legislative robustness.

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