Monday, March 15, 2010

Correction: A Different Reading of Senate Rule VII § 3(e)

Andrew Stengel, Senior Adviser for Government Reform for the Senate Democrats and loyal reader of our blog, contacted us today to give us a different interpretation of Senate Rule VII § 3(e) than we provided in a blog post last week in connection with the Farmworkers Rights Bill.

The full rule is below:

No motion for committee consideration shall be in order after the first Monday in May. The sponsor of any bill may file, through the Journal clerk, a motion for committee consideration forty-five days after the bill has been referred to such committee. Once a motion for committee consideration is filed, the chair of the committee shall place the bill on a committee agenda and schedule a vote within forty-five days. In the case of a bill that is referred to a standing committee having secondary reference, the bill shall be considered within the next two committee meetings [emphasis added].

We interpreted the last clause of this rule to mean that in the case of bills referred to a committee of secondary reference, as the farmworkers bill was, the committee must consider the bill within two meetings once a motion for committee consideration has been filed.

Andrew tells us that the Senate has a different interpretation. He says that this clause only applies to bills that passed out of the committee of first reference with a motion for committee consideration - so the sponsor does not have to wait to file a second motion for committee consideration or wait 45 days for that motion to be honored once it hits the second committee. If the motion for committee consideration is filed for the first time once a bill is in a committee of secondary reference, the chair still has 45 days to consider the bill. Going forward, this reading will be extremely be useful to those attempting to understand how the rules work and how best to decrease the likelihood that leadership can use committee referral to kill a bill.

This seems to be good news in the sense that leadership should have less power to silently kill a bill by referring it to a new committee and having the clock for a vote start all over again, but it's less clear how helpful it will be for proponents of the bill currently in question. Because the motion for committee consideration on the farmworkers bill wasn't filed until the bill was already in the committee of secondary reference, it may have to wait a full 45 days for consideration, rather than two meetings as we and the bill's supporters originally thought.

The main lesson for sponsors of bills (and their supporters) seems to be that if you want to get your bill to the floor quickly, make sure you file a motion for committee consideration as soon as possible.

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