Senate rule changes may signal trouble

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BY PHILLIP CEASE

Rules

Legislation will move more easily to law

On Tuesday, the state Senate met in an organizational session to elect its president pro tempore, allow freshman legislators to introduce themselves, and vote on rule changes.

Both the House and Senate have their own sets of rules that govern the way each body functions, from how seats are assigned to parliamentary procedure. These rules, while not voted on by citizens, are important mechanisms for determining whether legislation passes or dies.

Some of the changes that the Senate made Tuesday could make it more difficult to stop bad legislation and easier to pass a gas tax increase or other unpopular bills.

The two big changes that will allow legislation to pass through the Senate with less resistance are the elimination of minority reports and changing the way a filibuster works.

In the Senate, a minority report was used to hold a bill up in committee that a senator didn’t like. Senators could remove their names and allow the bill to continue in the process or the chamber could move to discuss the bill with a two-thirds vote.

The other big change was made to the rules for cloture, or ending a filibuster. Until this session if cloture was invoked it only affected that day. Now if cloture is invoked it applies to the rest of the debate process – a bill cannot be filibustered anymore.

The same rules could have been be used to stall bills that would enact positive changes and not just to kill unpopular ones. However, bills such as the gas tax increase were stopped last session using those very rules. Changing them now may signal what the Senate is going to try to do this session.