September 1, 2016 8:00 AM
The Legislative Process Senate Study Committee met for the first time on Wednesday, and heard proposals from several different senators that could provide for a significant change in the way the Senate, and by extension the General Assembly, operates. The committee did not take a vote on any of the proposed changes. Instead, they will be examined for feasibility and legality. In the end the committee will recommend the changes it finds appropriate to the full Senate when the 2017 rules are voted on early next Session.
In addition to technical changes offered by Senate Secretary David Cook, changes were proposed by Senators Josh McKoon, Bill Heath, Elena Parent, John Albers, and Minority Leader Steve Henson.
One of the biggest proposals would require that final versions of bills would be available for inspection for 24 hours prior to be voted on. This would be a significant change from the current requirement that bills must be available for two hours prior to a vote. This proposal, if adopted, would have the effect of changing Day 40 of the legislative session, which normally involves ping-ponging bills between the House and Senate to a day of voting on what had been through a conference committee previously, or had been approved by the House the same day.
The 24 hour rule would also apply to amendments made on the Senate floor. For example, if a bill was brought to the Senate floor and amended there. a new 24 hour clock would start, and final passage would be delayed to the next legislative day. Initially proposed by Sen. McKoon, it was also proposed by Sen. Heath. Senator Henson proposed a slightly different version that would only apply to conference committee reports.
Also under consideration are proposals that would move Crossover Day, the last day legislation must be passed in one house in order to be considered by the other, to earlier in the session. Sen. McKoon proposed Legislative Day 20 and Sen. Albers proposed Legislative Day 25 for Crossover Day. One reason given for the change was that it would force the legislature to spend more time in the early days of the session considering bills, and less time on pomp and circumstance.
Minority Leader Henson proposed a rule that would require the party makeup of committees to reflect, as closely as possible, the ratio of the majority party to the minority party. He pointed out major committees that would have only one or two members of the minority, while other committees, which typically would not have many bills referred to them, made up mostly of members in the minority. Sen. Parent agreed, and went further, requesting that the Committee on Assignments, which picks members of standing committees, have at least one member of the minority party.
Other proposals were aimed at making Senate proceedings more transparent to the citizens of Georgia. One proposal, made by several members, would require committee meetings to be video recorded, and made available to the public. Another proposal would allow the public to observe conference committee meetings. Another would require a recorded vote on amendments, which normally only require a show of hands. While there was talk of making recordings of hearings available, there was no mention of live broadcasts of meetings.
There were other proposals, ranging from a rule that would require adjournment at midnight on Day 40, a rule requiring that the order of bills considered on Day 40 be set in advance, one prohibiting lobbyist gifts to senators entirely, and one that would specify that a member proposing a study committee automatically be the chairman of that study committee, should it be approved.
How much chance do all these proposals have of being enacted? The study committee is the first gatekeeper, and study committee (and Rules Committee) chair Jeff Mullis made it clear from the outset that any changes must not allow the House to gain an advantage over the Senate. That could make it difficult to pass a change that would require the House to observe the same rule, such as with Crossover Day. Another limiting factor might be funding. Setting up committee rooms for live broadcasts, staffing them, and then archiving them properly won’t come without additional equipment and personnel that might not be available, not matter how desirable the proposal might be.
The study committee will continue to accept proposed changes from senators in writing, and is expected to meet again in several weeks to present its findings.