Senators urge several changes in session procedures

[private]Is there a better way to run the legislative process when the General Assembly is in session?

Several senators think so and are recommending changes in the rules that they contend would result in a more informed process.

“The people expect us to make decisions based on sound information and to know what we’re voting on,” said Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) at a meeting Wednesday of the Legislative Process Study Committee.

The most substantive rules changes being proposed are intended to slow down the process during the hectic final days of the session, when lawmakers are inundated with bills that they don’t have time to study or even take a passing glance at.

“Our current system routinely requires senators to vote on bills without having time to read them,” said Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus). “In one case last year, a vote on final passage of a Senate bill with a House amendment was allowed when the amendment had not even been provided to senators.”

McKoon is proposing that there be a 24-hour waiting period before senators vote on final passage of a bill, regardless of whether it’s a conference committee report or a House bill to which there is no Senate amendment.

That rule would effectively mean that all bills up for a vote on the 40th and final day of the session would have to be given to each senator by day 39.

Heath wants to adopt a rule that would prohibit conference committee reports from including any text or material in a bill that has not already been previously debated by lawmakers.  That would “keep something from showing up that has never been considered, something that’s never been discussed before,” Heath said.

Another change requested by several senators is to move up the “crossover day,” which currently is day 30 of the session.

This is a matter of numbers.  There are three times as many representatives as there are senators, which means that roughly three times as many bills are passed by the House than by the Senate.

Both chambers have the same 10-day period to debate and vote on bills that come over by the crossover day deadline — which means that senators have three times as many bills to sort through as House members do.

“We have the smallest amount of time but the largest number of bills,” said Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell).

Several proposals have been made to change the rules and move the crossover day to the 28th, 25th, or 20th day of the session so that senators would have more time to work on House bills in the latter half of the session.

“The House ought to want it (the rule change),” said Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), the chairman of the study committee.  “Making them know they ought to want it is another matter.”

Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson (D-Tucker) wants to see proportional representation by both parties in the membership of Senate committees.

Democrats now hold about 30 percent of the Senate seats, but less than 25 percent of the Appropriations Committee members are Democrats, Henson noted.  That same under-representation can be seen on other major committees such as rules, finance, and insurance, he said.

The minority party should also be allowed to determine which of its members will get whatever committee slots are allocated to that party, Henson said.

Other suggested rules changes:

  • Limit the number of “special presentations” that a senator can have to three per session.  “What will Judson (Hill) and Donzella (James) do?” Mullis asked jokingly.
  • Authorize committee chairmen to hold closed meetings when matters of “homeland security” are discussed.
  • Require conference committees to post the time and place of their meetings in advance.
  • Require votes on floor amendments to be recorded votes, not show-of-hand votes.
  • Require the Senate to adjourn promptly at midnight on the final day of the session rather continue in session into the next day.
  • Allow at least two hours of floor debate on all bills that have a fiscal impact of $100 million or more.
  • Require the swearing-in of witnesses who testify at committee meetings.
  • Allow bills to be moved out of committee through a “discharge petition.”
  • Require a two-thirds vote for the engrossment of a bill.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Bill Heath , Georgia Senate rules , Jeff Mullis , John Albers , Josh McKoon