Friday, May 25, 2007

Once-twice-three, VOTE! 

Many an academic has found himself or herself caught up in university senates where some people will try to jam the process by making incidental and privileged motions, each asserting they and they alone are the experts of parliamentary procedure. I also have sat in several church conferences where pastors pretend to the throne of parliamentarian. I fall prey to this insofar as I have to learn the process myself as chair of college committees and a relatively large department, though in the latter case I almost never need to call on it.

So, just to say in advance, while the forthcoming sounds like I know a lot about parliamentary procedure, don't mistake me for a parliamentarian. All us academics pretend to know procedure better than we do. However, it is helpful that a body like the Minnesota House of Representatives has permanent rules to which you can refer, at least for its actions. Hold onto that point, because we need to review them.

Michael has posted video created by the College Republicans of the remarkable power of the gavel wielded by Margaret Anderson Kelliher on Monday night. In it they make reference to the use of an incidental motion to "call the previous question". Judging by the reactions of the Republicans in the House, it appears that motion is almost never used -- at one time Kelliher says it's been used five times in recent years, though the video's graphic says five times since 1858. I have no idea when the other five times are. But the rule for the previous question exists in the House's permanent rules, and doesn't appear to have been changed in quite some time (i.e., the rule existed when the Republicans were the majority, though they claim not to have used it.) And the protests of Rep. Laura Brod appear to indicate that the Republicans were taken by surprise and not familiar with the rule. For instance, in Rule 3.10 -- of which Brod made a point of referring to the order of motions -- it specifically states that "if the motion for the previous question has been properly made, and if necessary seconded, and the main question ordered, the motion to lay on the table is not in order." Brod had tried to get the main motion -- the gas tax override -- laid on the table after it appears Kelliher had her motion by Tony Sertich and counted her fifteen seconds as required by the rules. If you wanted to derail this thing you could have asked for a call of the House (which ten members can do, and would have required a roll call in advance.)

There's no doubt though that this was premeditated, not only in recognizing Sertich from the speaker's chair -- which she correctly asserts her right to do, though it's pretty clearly out of turn -- and in the very quick finding of her fifteen seconding motions. Sertich's motion was not in the proper form according to the usual parliamentary rules (he doesn't state the previous motion which he is calling) but that's up to Kelliher to enforce or someone to emphasize in a point of order. The video is right in saying the DFL railroaded those bills to a vote.

One other point: Besides the overruling of a motion to lay on the table -- which is a specific rule of the MN House and not a normal rule under Roberts' -- the House is also unusual in that a motion to call the previous question only requires a simple majority there and not a two-thirds requirement as is normal elsewhere (which is why I had to spend time reading the permanent rules, because otherwise the GOP could have simply voted as a bloc to reject the previous question.) It would be in the interest of open debate in the Legislature if the permanent rules were never again allowed to be used in this way, and this could be done simply by having a super-majority requirement for that motion written into the permanent rules. I suggest the GOP make that a legislative priority in the next session along with the other rules stifling debate as I noted a few days ago.

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