On Harwell’s Overhaul of House Rules and Committees

House Speaker Beth Harwell has proposed a major overhaul of House rules that includes a limit on the number of bills a lawmaker can file, a move to end “ghost voting” and a realignment of the committee system.
The rule revisions will require approval of the full House on a two-thirds vote after the 108th General Assembly convenes on Jan. 8. They will first be vetted in the House Rules Committee.
Harwell said in a statement that she believes the changes “reflect the will of the body” based on a survey of representatives in the last legislative session.
She said the changes also reflect citizen wishes that state government operate “efficiently and effectively while saving money.”
“While the Congress remains mired in partisan gridlock and continues to waste time, the state Legislture is working toward better government,” Harwell said.
Among the major changes:
–Each representative will be limited to filing 10 bills per year, though with some exceptions. That would be about half the average number of bills filed per representative in the last legislative session, which saw 3,887 House bills filed over the two-year life of the 107th General Assembly.
Not counted toward the 10-bill limit would be legislation filed on behalf of Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, so-called “sunset” bills that extend the life of an existing government agency and bills that apply only to one city or county.

–A rewritten rule will declare that “No member shall vote for another member on the electronic roll call system or otherwise.” The House clerk is also authorized to block votes from being cast from the desk of an absent lawmaker.
In the last legislative session, some media reports focused on the practice of “ghost voting,” wherein a representative present on the House floor pushes the button to cast votes for an absent colleague on bills, resolutions or procedural matters. Some lawmakers faced criticism on the subject in their re-election campaigns earlier this year.
–Eliminating a present rule that requires every document considered on the floor to be printed, instead relying on digital copies. Harwell touted the “paperless” system as a way to save money when each lawmaker has a computer at his or her desk.
–Each representative will be limited to two “floor presentations” per session. Such presentations involve a lawmaker having an individual constituent or group of constituents brought to the House floor for a round of speeches – sometimes songs or musical performances – when a resolution is adopted honoring the person or group. Currently, some lawmakers – especially those from the Nashville area – have many floor presentations, promoting colleagues to privately grumble.
–The House Code of Ethics, previously adopted in the form of a resolution, will become part of permanent rules. Because of a procedural quirk, the present system technically leaves the House without a Code of Ethics during the period from election day until the ethics resolution is adopted after the new session begins – this year from Nov. 6 until, probably, sometime in January.
–The number of major committees is expanded from 12 to 13, not counting the agenda-setting Calendar Committee that will remain in place. Harwell said the result will be a more balanced workload for the panels.
Only five current committees – Education, Finance, Government Operations, Health and Transportation – appear basically unchanged under the format outlined by Harwell.
Three committees with heavy workloads – Commerce, Judiciary and State and Local Government committees are effectively split into two committees each. Judiciary is abolished while one new committee will focus on civil justice matters and the other on criminal justice matters.
Similarly, the State and Local Government Committee is split into a State Government Committee and a Local Government Committee. Commerce is split into a new Business and Utilities Committee and a Banking and Insurance Committee.
The current Conservation and Environment Committee, Children and Family Affairs committee and Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee are abolished with their duties transferred to other panels.
The old Agriculture Committee, for example, would become the Agriculture and Environment Committee, overseeing bills that previously would have gone to the Conservation and Environment Committee.

Note: News release in previous post, HERE.

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