The thoroughly modern Mason's Manual.
What can a legislator do if he makes a motion at a committee meeting and no one seconds it? Turn to section 62 of the 1989 edition of Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure and find that seconds to motions are not required. Unlike a member of a private association, a legislator represents a constituency and is entitled to present a matter for consideration of the body without having the support of another legislator.
Since 1935, lawmakers have been turning to Mason's to solve procedural problems not addressed by their legislature's rules. Today Mason's is used in 63 of the 99 state legislative chambers.
Paul Mason, a parliamentarian and attorney who worked with the California Legislature, compiled the first edition of the manual in 1935, drawing on other precedure manuals and court decisions that affect the rules. He revised his book six times, the last time in 1979.
Mason died in 1985, after turning over the copyright to Mason's Manual to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A commission composed of 16 members of the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries from 14 states continue his work. Starting in the mid-'80s they took a fresh look at the manual and published a new edition in 1989.
How does the 1989 Mason's differ from the 1979 edition? Many of the changes reflect the challenges that legislatures have faced in recent years--an increasing workload, the shifting of responsibility for many federal programs to the states, the declines of party control and pressure for open government. Just as the unique nature of legislatures shaped the rule on seconds to motions, so have the recent forces affecting state legislatures shaped changes in procedure.
For State Legislatures Only
Mason's early editions included rules for both state and local legislative bodies. In 1953, he added administrative bodies and private associations. This has often been confusing because the various bodies have different functions and frequently different rules.
Mason's is now clearly for the use of state legislatures only. The new edition deleted almost all provisions applicable to administrative and local legislative bodies and private associations. Several provisions were retained but adapted for legislatures. For example, a rule that "a vacancy on a city council when a member moves out of the city does not exist until ascertained and declared by the council" now applies instead to a legislator moving out of his district.
Further changes incorporated in the 1989 edition document the evolving relationship between the legislature and the executive branch of state government. Provisions are added that describe legislative authority to delegate rule-making power to administrative agencies, to review agency regulations and to oversee the operations of the executive branch. Moreover, the new manual recognizes that many legislatures have become more independent of the governor. The 1979 edition contained language that an interim committee could be created by statute, which would require the governor's signature, but only by concurrent resolution, which generally would not. The new edition provides that interim committees may be created by either method. Similarly, the 1979 edition referred to the governo's "exclusive authority" to call special sessions of the legislature; the new edition indicates that some constitutions or statutes include provisions for legislatures to call themselves into session.
Role of Legislative Committees
In many states, legislative committees are used to handle the legislatures' expanded responsibilities and increased workload. The 1989 edition adds language clarifying the authority of committees to conduct public hearings, gather information and work on proposed legislation during the interim between sessions. It adds new provisions on the role of committees in overseeing the executive branch and reviewing regulations. The increasing importance of committees is shown in a new provision that "some states consider days on which committees meet as legislative days, as well as those days when both houses are in session." (Mason's does not define the term legislative day, but cites cases indicating that the term is used when counting days for scheduling purposes.) And a change in the prohibition on a committee meeting while a house is in session is symbolic of the independence of committees. The old rule required a committee to end its meeting when notified by the sergeant-at-arms; the new rule leaves it to the committee to terminate the meeting when a session is starting.
Although legislative committees have generally grown more powerful and independent, leadership's primary means of reining them in--the appointment process--is strengthened. The 1989 edition provides that it is the usual practice for the appointing authority to designate the vice-chair. And a neww provision is added on the removal of members: "It is a general rule of parliamentary procedure that the appointing authority has the right to remove a chair or a committee member."
Streamlining the Process
The 1989 edition of Mason's makes many changes to promote efficiency and help legislatures cope with a larger workload. In some cases, the legislative process can be speeded up, as in a new provision indicating that in some states a member may be interrupted by a motion to move the previous question. In other cases, the process is strealined. For example, the procedure for friendly amendments is simplified by deleting a paragraph that allowed first the mover of the main motion to accept the amendment and then the body6, if there was an objection. Now, under Mason's, there is only one step: It is up to the body to decide.
An important change imposes limits on the procedure concerning disagreements between the houses that may lead to a conference committee, a topic addressed for the first time in the 1989 edition. These new provisions indicate that if both houses have approved different versions of a bill they can amend only the amendments of the other house and not portions of the bill already agreed to by both houses; and they allowe each chamber to amend the other's amendment only once before the house has to either concur, refuse to concur or request a conference.
To avoid confusion in a faster-paced legislative process, the 1989 edition makes several procedures more formal. For example, amendments to bills "must be" instead of "usually are" submitted in writing; this provision applies for the first time to amendments to resolutions.
Role of Presiding Officer
The 1989 edition strengthens the position of the presiding officer. This may reflect an effort to counter diminishing party control of the proceedngs and the growing independence of individual legislators. For example, the new edition deletes a provision that the question of germaneness of an amendment is to be decided by the body and not by the presiding officer. The general rule--that all questions of order are decided by the presiding officer, subject to appeal by any member--would apply in such cases. Several changes give the presiding officer additional discretion. For example, a provision suggesting that the presiding officer should put to a vote the question of whether a member called to order during a debate should be allowed to proceed was changed to suggest that the presiding officer may put such a question to a vote.
A portion of the presiding officer's increased authority in the new Mason's comes at the expense of the individual members of the body. Thus, a provision is deleted that provided that when there is a question between two members as to which is entitled to the floor, one member may relinquish the claim in favor of the other member. The presiding officer will now make that decision. This is part of an overall trend in the new edition that reduces the ability of individual members to control the proceedings. For example, the 1979 edition provided that it is the duty of a committee to meet on the call of any two of its members. The 1989 edition provides that a committee meeting may be held on the call of the majority of its members.
The legislative process has become more accessible to the public in recent years, in response to public pressure for open government. The new edition reflects this trend with several procedural changes. For example, the 1979 edition prohibited bills and other measures sent to the clerk's desk from being examined, even by the members, until they were formally presented to the body under the appropriate order of business. The 1989 edition changed the prohibition on examination to a prohibition on removal of the documents at any time.
Technological change has had only a small effect on legislative procedure in the new Mason's. The only significant change is in the provision prohibiting a member from reading aloud, or having the clerk read aloud, from any paper or book, without the permission of the body. This prohibition was extended to electronic recording. This will likely change in future editions of the manual, as more legislatures put computers on member's desks in the chambers.
The 1989 edition contains other changes made for a variety of reasons:
* A legislature's customs now take precedence over adopted parliamentary authority, e.g., Mason's Manual. This is an important change because under the 1979 edition Mason's would be applied to a procedural question before a customary practice.
* The duty of the chief legislative officer (formerly called the chief clerk) to supervise house clerical work and employees is no longer subject to the direction of the presiding officer.
* The new edition resolves a conflict about what constitutes a quorum of a joint session. The new rule is that only a majority of the membership of both houses is needed, even if there is less than a majority of one house present.
* It deletes a provision to nullify a vote if the presiding officer hurriedly announces the vote while a member is rising to address the chair. Another section of Mason's prohibits the presiding officer from preventing debate by putting questions to vote prematurely, but there is no other provision for a sanction.
* Sections on privilege of members from arrest were substantially revised in accordance with judicial developments.
There are two revisions in the 1989 Mason's that may cause confusion and that should be revisited in the next edition:
* A section that previously stated that a member, when recognized, is entitled to the floor, now also provides "but [that member] may not yield the floor to any other member." However, a different section allows a member to yield to another in certain situations.
* A section was amended to provide that after a question has been put and voting has commenced, it is too late to claim the floor for debate. However, two other provisions of the manual continue to allow debate during a vote.
Overall, however, the commission that prepared the1989 edition of Mason's did an excellent job of updating the manual, eliminating redundant provisions and rephrasing confusing language. The result is a manual that better serves state legislators.
Larry Shapiro and Edwin Maley are attorneys in Connecticut's non-partisan Legislative Commissioners' Office.
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|Title Annotation:||1989 edition of Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure|
|Author:||Maley, Edwin J. Jr.|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1992|
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