In recent home visits and speaking engagements in District 34, folks have asked, “Why the logjam in this year’s session?” So, let’s look at some basics of how the Legislature runs (or doesn’t).
Bills are allowed to be introduced or “dropped” the first ten days of a session and then are referred to a standing committee for a public hearing where anyone is allowed to testify in support or opposition to a bill. Once the hearing takes place, the committee decides the fate of the bill. If it is advanced to the floor, the Speaker of the Legislature decides when it will be placed on the agenda for debate.
Let me pause here to say, a Senator is allowed to introduce as many bills as they wish, however, each senator may only designate one bill as their “priority bill.” This means the bill has a greater likely-hood of being placed on the agenda and debated by the full legislature. That’s 49 total. Of the 14 standing committees, each one may designate two bills as their committee priority bills. Finally, the Speaker of the Legislature may designate up to 25 bills as Speaker’s Priority Bills. Add those up, and you have 102 priority bills. At the current speed with the ongoing filibuster tactics being employed, it is estimated we will only pass 33 bills this session. That is a far call from the 102 priority bills selected and the 820 bills introduced this year.
Back to the process on the floor. Each bill goes through three rounds of floor debate and votes. Round one is called General File; second is Select File; third is Final Reading.
On General File, senators are allowed to debate up to eight hours before a cloture vote taken to end debate. Select File is allowed to go for four hours, and two hours on Final Reading. Thirty-three senators must vote yes to cease debate before the actual bill is voted on. If the cloture motion does not received at least 33 yes votes, the bill is effectively dead.
So what is holding up progress this year? A small group of senators who are upset that a specific bill passed the first round of debate. They have announced they will filibuster or “talk to death” every single bill before the legislature in an attempt to bully senators into changing their vote. This means every bill is taking multiple hours of debate before advancing, even if all 49 senators support the legislation.
The “filibuster rule” has its pros and cons. Con - the process is slowed down dramatically. This can also be a pro, when bad legislation is sailing through without a second house to put on the brakes. The pro - it protects the minority in the body and their concerns. Remember, we do not have a democracy (majority rules). We have a Constitutional Republic which recognizes the minority and falls under the rule of constitutional law.
It was Dr. Benjamin Rush who said, “A democracy becomes a “Mobocracy.”” And John Adams added, “There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”