As reported in Friday’s Senate Journal, the Legislature is considering a few changes to their Joint Rules. Noteworthily:
The House and Senate appear inclined to make it easier to ignore public testimony and ramrod bills without debate on the chamber floors. Joint Rules 13-1 and 13-2 govern the placement of bills and resolutions on the consent calendar. As implemented in past Sessions, the Joint Rules have said that if a bill receives no opponent testimony in committee and if the committee unanimously supports it, the committee may recommend placing the bill on the consent calendar. That means the bill is lumped in with a bunch of other apparently simple, uncontroversial bills which the House or Senate may then vote on all at once, without debate.
On Thursday, the Joint Committee on Legislative Procedure voted unanimously for Amendment B to the Joint Rules, which would strike from JR 13-1 and JR 13-2 the criterion that a bill must receive no opposing testimony in committee to qualify for the consent calendar. So if the Legislature considers, say, a bill to require Legislative approval of initiative petitions to place such measures on the general election ballot, and we faithful followers of Father Robert Haire all pack the committee room to testify against such Legislative overreach, the overreachers may all say, “More power for us? Huzzah!” and send that bill to the House or Senate for approval with no floor debate.
Along with this diminution of public power in the Legislative process, the Legislature may amend its rules to give itself more power over the Executive Branch. Amendment D to the Joint Rules would allow legislators to propose bills that repeal existing administrative rules or require Executive Branch entities to adopt new rules or rule changes with specific language.
Amendment F catches up with statute to give legislators more freedom in proposing legislation that puts people in prison. Last Session, the Legislature swiftly and emergencetically passed 2023 House Bill 1003, which repealed the requirement that bills proposing penalties or otherwise affecting who goes to jail or prison and for how long get a prison/jail population cost estimate from the Legislative Research Council before receiving a final vote in committee or floor debate. Amendment F strips from the Joint Rules references to that repealed prison/jail population cost estimate.
While those three changes seek to make it a little easier for the Legislature to exert its will, Amendment C to the Joint Rules would make clear that certain actions should be harder to take. Amendment C adds a new rule requiring that any bill increasing a fee, imposing a new fee, or authorizing a state agency to increase or impose a fee must receive a two-thirds vote to pass. Raising taxes already requires a two-thirds vote, but every now and then, legislators confuse taxes and fees. Amendment C’s new rule would eliminate any such confusion and guarantee continuing minority rule by fiscal conservatives (whose conservativism, as Amendment F and 2023 HB 1003 indicate, takes a backseat to their authoritarian enthusiasm for putting people behind bars).
The House and Senate heard the Joint Rules Committee’s report Friday. They will vote on adoption of the Joint Rules with these amendments on Tuesday.