On Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives is expected to consider several significant rule changes that could alter the balance of power in the legislature's lower chamber.
According to a copy of the proposed rule changes obtained by 1819 News, the rules proposed by House Republican leadership could change the ebb and flow of the chamber's business that some felt had plagued the body's productivity throughout the last quadrennium.
Not unlike the drama in Washington, the nomination and likely House Speaker election of Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) could deviate from the status quo that some have become accustomed to.
The proposed rule changes could create a more streamlined process in the House of Representatives. However, some are concerned the changes could stifle opposition to specific legislation, reduce the effectiveness of filibustering and increase the House Speaker's power.
Several changes involve amending existing rules, and others create new rules altogether.
Sources tell 1819 News one of the proposed rule changes that has lawmakers concerned is so-called Rule 23, which increases the number of members required to contest local legislation. The rule is believed to be a reaction to former State Rep. Tommy Hanes (R-Bryant), who sought to ban the use of human sewage as fertilizer in Jackson County via constitutional amendment. The effort made it out of the House but was defeated in the Senate.
As a result, Hanes responded by contesting many of the local bills considered by the legislature.
Another significant rule change that has raised concerns is Rule 73, which would change the notice of committee meetings during regular sessions after the 20th legislative day for bills received from the Senate on or after the 20th legislative day to four hours. Previously, that standard applied on the 27th legislative day and beyond.
While most of the legislature's membership resides within a four-hour drive of Montgomery, some members have raised concerns about the possibility of having to be in the State House at a moment's notice for a committee meeting during the legislative session.
Most notable are Rules 69 and 14. The previous quadrennium had been plagued by long-winded debates led primarily by the minority party. These new rules are apparently intended to eliminate some impediments to the House's business. However, they could also stymy debate from within the Republican caucus, including House GOP conservatives.
Highlights as follows:
The proposed amendment to House Rule 61 states: "The Speaker may designate members to perform duties and responsibilities to assist in the efficient administration of House business."
The lack of specificity in the proposed rule would theoretically weaken the authority of the House Majority Leader and give the Speaker authority to designate tasks at will instead of following a prescribed order based on specified House rules.
A change to House Rule 14 would give the Speaker the authority to "rerefer" a bill to a second committee after it has passed through the first committee. Currently, after a bill passes through a committee, it is brought to the House for a vote on possible amendments or full passage. The proposed rule change would give Ledbetter the authority to send any bill to a second committee after passing the first.
If a bill is referred, all committee amendments would be engrossed into a substitute to be considered by the second committee, preventing House members from debating amendments from the first committee. The second committee would also have the authority to introduce additional amendments.
House Rule 23 currently allows one or more House members to contest a local bill. The proposed revision would increase the minimum number of members to contest a bill to 11. The proposed change would remove the ability of single members to protest or halt the passage of a bill that would affect their district, a common practice in the legislature. Unless a lawmaker can gather 10 additional members' support, the attempted contest would fail due to lack of support.
A proposed addition to House Rule 13 would change committee protocol for considering local Constitutional Amendments (CA).
Currently, committees designated for the specific localities deliberate the CA's impacting that locality. The new rule would place all local CAs in a standing committee that does not consider local legislation.
A proposed change to House Rule six, which governs the order of business in the House, seeks to remove portions of debate from House proceedings.
Taking up the maximum time allowed in debating committee reports is a common practice to filibuster legislation. If a bill with significant opposition in the House is slated to come to the floor, opposition members can use their entire allotted time to filibuster committee reports. The proposed changes seek to remove debate on committee reports altogether, lessening the effectiveness of filibustering.
Newly proposed House Rule 69 would further limit debate time by packaging all amendments into a substitute bill to be voted on the House floor.
Committee amendments are currently voted on individually when brought to the house floor. This allows for focused debate on amendments and additional time for filibustering.
House members are allotted one hour to debate committee amendments, so the hours stack up when a bill has multiple amendments. The new rule would limit debate time by removing debate on individual amendments by packaging all amendments into one substitute bill.
House Rule 73 contains a proposed amendment that would change the notification requirements for standing committee meetings.
Currently, committee members are informed of meetings 24 hours in advance until the 27th legislative day. The proposed change would allow for a minimum four-hour notice for bills received from the Senate after the 20th legislative day. It also implements the four-hour minimum for all committee meetings during a special session.
The previous rule had a cutoff on the 27th legislative day due to the fast-approaching 30th day, the last day of the legislative session. The proposed rules could prove troublesome for lawmakers and the public alike since the 24-hour notice allows ample time to review proposed bills and amendments.
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