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Commission continues Mason's work.

Paul Mason worked diligently for more than 40 years to keep legislators up to date on parliamentary law. Now a seasoned commission has taken up where he left off.

Until 1985, when a committee of legislative clerks and secretaries began revising Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedures, this indispensable reference was the work of one man, devoted parliamentarian Paul Mason.

Mason took to rules early. Asked which important books he remembered from his childhood home, he responded immediately, "Robert's Rules of Order . . . and then there were some scientific books."

As a graduate student in political science at Stanford in the early 1920s, Mason built on his interest. He wrote his master's thesis on procedure in the California Legislature, and he went to work there as a clerk as soon as he finished his degree. He was admitted to the California bar in 1923.

During his 10 years in the Legislature, Mason was assistant legislative counsel and then assistant secretary of the Senate, working with longtime secretary Joe Beek. "Joe really was not a parliamentarian," says former Senate secretary James Driscoll. "A lot of clerships are political in nature and administrative in function, but someplace along the line you need a parliamentarian, and Paul was there for that." He never was officially named parliamentarian, however.

Among his many other endeavors, Mason later served as legislative secretary to Governor Goodwin Knight and parliamentarian for Lieutenant Governor Bob Finch.

Enthralled with the law as well as with procedure, in 1931 Mason compiled the Annotated Edition of the State Constitution of California--a two-volume, 2,400-page work--and updated it three times in the next 22 years.

Mason first published his Manual of Legislative Procedure for the California Legislature in 1935. At the request of the American Legislators Association, he made it available to lawmakers in other state as a ready source of the rules of parliamentary law. As the manual was adopted in more and more states, Mason revised it six times from 1937 to 1979. Today, all state legislatures use Mason's Manual, and in 63 of the 99 state chambers it is the primary parliamentary authority.

"Mason was a very scholarly person," says Darryl White, a former secretary of the California Senate. "Mason's Manual took an awful lot of work, going through all those court cases. He liked to do that kind of painstaking research."

Unlike guides such as Robert's Rules, Mason's procedures are based on his belief that parliamentary law is in fact law. He believed that the courts have the final say about what the law is and that all actions taken in making a decision must comply with the law or run the risk of being upset by anyone who contests them.

In the foreword to the 1979 edition be wrote. "This volume evolved from an exhaustive study of judicial decisions and legislative precedents and practice, guided bby knowledge gained from many years of experience with legislative procedure and from specialization in constitutional law. A proper application of these rules of procedure will eliminate controversy, confusion and litigation and will make public bodies more efficient in their work and more pleasant to work in."

Although some parliamentary authorities are very detailed, Mason believed in simplicity. To help lawmakers apply the rules more easily, Mason laid out 10 principles that govern procedure in group decision makingg. "Thought of in terms of principles instead of rigid, detailed technical rules, parliamentary law is essentially logical and simple," Mason wrote.

Between the completion of his last revision of the Mason's Manual in 1979 and his death in 1985, Mason turned over the copyright to NCSL. "[My father] thought that for the public good an organization that was interested in the legislative process should take over the book. He felt strongly that this was the best way to maximize future use of the manual and the research that it represents," says the author's son, also named Paul Mason.

NCSL began work immediately to keep the book alive and up to date. The job was delegated to the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries. In April 1985, the society's president at the time, Betty King, secretary of the Texas Senate, appointed to the Mason's Manual Revision Commission members representing large and small legislatures from different regions of the country and with different approaches to the legislative process. Together the 16 members had 362 years of combined experience in their jobs.

Chair of the ongoing group is Patrick Flahaven, secretary of the Minnesota Senate for 19 years, and the vice chair is Gregory Gray, assistant clerk and parliamentarian of the West Virginia House of Delegates. The others who worked on the revision are Joe Brown, Florida; Edward Burdick, Minnesota; Grace Collins, North Carolina; Mark Corrigan, Pennsylvania; William Kandler, Michigan; Betty King; Mouryne Landing, Nevade; Clyde McCullough Jr., Tennessee; Patrick O'Donnell, Nebraska; John Phelps, Florida; Robert Picher, Vermont; Jane Richards, Arizona; Donald Schneider, Wisconsin; and Kenneth Wright, Illinois.

Thinking the revision would take a year or less, the commission began going through the book section by section and soon realized that significant changes were needed to bring the manual in line with current practices. Subcommittees took on chapters, and individuals pored over sections. Then the whole commission voted on the changes that were recommended.

The members modernized the book's language and determined which practices were used widely enough to retain, keeping in mind that it would be disruptive to suddenly shift more than 40 years of tradition. The appeal of tradition is illustrated by the fact that the primary parliamentary authority used by Congress and the source used as a backup by many states is Jefferson's Manual, originally written by Thomas Jefferson.

After voting that Mason's should continue to be a scholarly work based on legal precedents, the commission conducted an exhaustive search for cases that might apply to legislative procedures and updated those Mason had cited. West Publishing Co. and Mead Data Central donated time on their electronic systems for the searches.

A big part of the job was clearing up confusing and incosistent passages. "Many paragraphs were contradictory," says Bob Picher, clerk of the Vermont House. "One secction might [say] what you can discuss in debate. Then another section might imply that you couldn't bring that up."

Although Mason had begun to include procedures for municipal government and other administrative bodies, the commission eliminated those references so that the manual applies only to state legislative bodies.

Most debate focused on substantive issues, but chief clerks Jane Richards and Mouryne Landing fought hard for correct grammar and style, too. "My nickname was the 'comma queen,'" Richards laughs. "A sentence is subject to misinterpretation if commas aren't correctly placed. We took a lot of teasing, but I thought [commas and sentence structure and spelling] were extremely important."

The commission took on the tricky--and sometimes impossible--task of making the manual "gender neutral" without weighing down the text with cumbersome "he/she, his/her" constructions.

After three and a half years of meeting five lor six times a year, arguing and working hard, the commission completed the revision, which was published in 1989. Although some members of the group have changed--but not many--the commission still meets regularly.

Currently, they are reviewing for accuracy references to other parliamentary authorities. And, says commission chair Pat Flahaven," we're looking for ways to bring the book up to date and make it more useful as legislatures evolve and adopt new ways of doing things." Suggestions are welcome, he says.

Flahaven says that Mason's is "the most appropriate legislative manual in existence for a state legislature because it is compiled specifically for legislative practice." Procedure is basic to the operation of the legislature, he says, because "it is used to guide full and fair consideration of any issue that's being debated and acted into law."

The revision commission achieved a great deal, Flahaven says, working through differences to come up with procedures applicable to all jurisdictions. "The people who hold these jobs are fairly strong individuals with strongly held beliefs about how procedure ought to be conducted," Flahaven says. "That they were able to agree on a manual that they could all endorse and use is perhaps their greatest accomplishment."

"I'm proud of the commission," says Bob Picher, clerk of the Vermont House for 29 years. "Because these people had the time, the energy and the desire, we did come out with a good product. We did one helluva good job."

States' Rules and Procedures Go On-Line

LEGISNET, NCSL's computerized legislative information system, now has a tool parliamentarians can use in conjunction with authorities like Mason's Manual. The rules and procedures (RAP) database on LEGISNET contains the complete text of the rules and procedures of all the state legislative chambers.

Development of the database was a year-long collaborative effort of the NCSL Legislative Management and Legislative Information Services departments and was partially funded by the NCSL Foundation for State Legislatures. Clerks and secretaries in the states played a vital role by providing NCSL with the rules from their states. Though compiling the database took the hard work of many people, it already seems worth the trouble.

State legislators and legislative staff benefit from the easy access the database provides to other states' legislative rules and procedures. For example, the Florida House of Representatives made use of the RAP database when a parliamentary question arose on the floor about how the term "reading" should be defined. John Phelps, clerk of the Florida House, during a break in proceedings, dialed into the RAP database to see how other states' rules defined the term.

Phelps notes that while Florida doesn't rely on the rules of other states as a definitive authority for questions that arise, other's rules provide c context for understanding how terms are used. He also says that the RAP database is particularly helpful for those writing new rules. "Every rule exists as a solution to a problem. Looking at other states' rules provides an array of options for solving that problem," Phelps says.

NCSL staff use the database extensively to address questions such as the number of states that have limits on bill introductions or the particulars of legislative ethics rules.

Altogether, the RAP database contains more than 10,500 rules. State legislatures vary widely in the number of rules promulgated, from a low of 55 in Alaska to a high of 521 rules in Texas Legislative rules and procedures also vary in specificity. For example, one Iowa House rule states, "The use of nondegradable polystyrene cups shall not be permitted on the floor of the house, at the speaker's station, or in the press boxes." In contrast, an Alaska rule says, in part, "The presiding officer of each house has the duties set forth in section 575, Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, 1979 edition, when not inconsistent with these Uniform Rules."

Currently, the database is available only to legislatures and some members of the NCSL Foundation for State Legislatures. Although searches can be conducted quickly and easily, users should give themselves time to read through the user's manual and become acquainted with how the rules are organized in the database and the special language required for searching. For more information about the RAP database, call Brenda Erickson or Pam Greenberg. For technical assistance, information on equipment required to access LEGISNET, or user names, call Steve Graff. They can be reached in NCSL's Denver office at (303) 830-2200.

Karen Fisher is an assistant editor of State Legislatures.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Mason's Manual Revision Committee; Paul Mason
Author:Fisher, Karen
Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Bibliography
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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