House of Deputies

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December 10, 2014

Dear Deputies and Alternate Deputies:

The House of Deputies Study Committee on the Rules of Order was appointed by President Jennings following the 77th General Convention. Her goal in appointing the committee was to undertake a comprehensive review and update to the Rules of Order that govern legislative business in the House of Deputies. During our work, she has encouraged us to think creatively about ways to improve the work of the House of Deputies.

Our study committee began its work by meeting with a parallel committee from the House of Bishops. During this meeting, we had a fruitful discussion and shared some of the experiences of our respective Houses and opportunities to improve the Joint Rules of Order.

Throughout its work, the House of Deputies study committee approached its task with two goals in mind. The first goal was to revise the rules of order in a way that makes them clearer, easier to understand, and a better resource for deputies who are trying to locate a particular rule. The second goal was to evaluate ways to improve the rules to facilitate the work of the House of Deputies (House) and the General Convention.

icon Download the draft Rules of Order

Style Revisions

To accomplish the first goal, our study committee adopted a plain language philosophy. We revised text to be clear and direct and adopted an outline format to make it easier to follow and locate key rules. We modified words to remove obscure and arcane terms in favor of words that describes exactly what action is being taken. This approach will facilitate new deputies’ understanding of the rules and encourage them to participate in the process more quickly. Rather than trying to understand what is happening or what a particular motion does or means, deputies should be able to quickly pick up on what is occurring as it happens.

A good example of how language can serve as a barrier to participation is the “Motion for the Previous Question,” also known as “Call the Question.” This motion ends the debate on any particular resolution or motion being considered and proceeds to an immediate vote. But outside its use in a parliamentary procedure, the phrase is almost never used. For a deputy who does not regularly participate in legislative session, this rule is one of many that are written in a way that increases the learning curve and serves as a barrier to full participation in the legislative process. The desire to avoid these situations is reflected throughout these revised rules.

Another example is the action to “Discharge.” There is significant ambiguity in what the motion to discharge means and what it is accomplishing. Often the House seeks to remove a resolution from further consideration without taking an up or down vote on it. In essence, the House is taking no action on a particular resolution and could be doing so for a number of reasons. To improve the transparency and the clarity of what is happening, the committee is proposing that the act of discharging is renamed “Take No Action.”

Substantive Revisions

Our study committee also sought ways to improve the efficiency of the House. General Convention currently deals with hundreds of resolutions in a short amount of time, and now there is increased pressure to reduce the number of days and length of the General Convention. We were mindful of these financial and time pressures and calls by some to either limit or restrict the number of resolutions. We also felt that any mechanisms to improve efficiency should not come at a cost of the ability of a deputy to have her/his idea heard by a committee and considered and debated by the House.

The beauty of the General Convention is that, at its core, it allows for deputies to contribute to the conversation in a substantive way. If that participation is restricted too much, we are at risk of changing the culture and limiting the ability of ideas to percolate.

With these tensions in mind, we are proposing changes that should improve the flow of the legislative process, improve the debate experience, and allow for substantive discussion on the major issues that require it. What follows are some of the major changes:

Revising the Role of Dispatch

First, we are proposing to alter the role of the Committee on Dispatch of Business (Dispatch). Currently, the legislative calendar is set automatically and almost exclusively based on the time the resolutions are submitted to the House from Dispatch. They are then taken in order, without regard to which may be higher priority or require more consideration. We felt that there should be a better, more efficient way to handle legislative calendering, and sought to examine the role of Dispatch in this context. 

Dispatch is a unique committee because it is the only committee that has members serving on all the other legislative committees and observing the debate, testimony, and conversation that are happening in all the committees. This, in essence, provides every legislative committee an advocate for any discussions regarding the calendar.

Our study committee’s proposal is to give Dispatch the ability to be more intentional about the legislative calendar. We propose that each day of General Convention, Dispatch will set the legislative calendar for the following day. Resolutions will be assigned an order on the calendar to ensure that high priority resolutions can be addressed as needed. Following the end of the legislative day, Dispatch will review the House’s progress on its work and rework the calendar to reflect new resolutions that have come out of legislative committees.

Once a resolution is on the calendar, it remains, ensuring that everything is scheduled for a debate. The study committee draft also ensures that the House always has a failsafe in the event that it feels that a resolution needs to be brought to the floor more quickly.

The Consent Calendar

The second major change is to encourage better use of the consent calendar by legislative committees and deputies. The consent calendar is a tool that allows multiple pieces of legislation on which the House of Deputies has consensus to be adopted in a single vote.  Legislative committees review, revise, propose amendments, and recommend the action that the House takes on resolutions. For most resolutions, but not all, the recommendation of legislative committees is accepted by the House.

In past years, legislative committees have been urged to use the consent calendar to improve the legislative flow. Committees are asked to place non-controversial legislation on the calendar so that there is enough time to consider items that require deliberation or debate. After reviewing the use of the consent calendar, we felt that it was important to find ways to encourage its use.

We are proposing a small shift in the use of the consent calendar. In this proposal, a legislative committee’s recommendation on a resolution--including all amendments--would be placed on the consent calendar automatically unless the legislative committee votes otherwise. This will encourage legislative committees to engage in a substantive discussion on whether a resolution needs debate on the floor of the House.

The Rules of Order Committee also wanted to maintain the rights of a proposer, or any three deputies, to remove an item from the consent calendar at any time before the final vote on the calendar. The President or the Chair of Dispatch may also remove items that they think require more debate or discussion. This provides a safety valve so that, in the event a resolution has opposition or merits debate, there will be an opportunity for the House to consider it.

Debate Rules

Our study committee also sought to improve the debate experience for deputies at General Convention. As each convention progresses, concerns emerge about whether or not deputies will have enough time to have a substantive discussion on major resolutions. We felt that it was important to foster discussion and deliberation on resolutions while also including some limits.

With this in mind, we have proposed the following changes to debate:

  • Each speaker will be limited to two minutes. This time limit has become the norm at General Conventions in recent memory and the House has continued to adopt this time limit;
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  • During the first six minutes of debate, no amendments will be in order unless no one wishes to speak on the resolution. This provides an opportunity for at least three speakers to address the substance of a resolution before the debate shifts to whether or not the House wishes to amend the resolution. This will provide space for deputies to consider the resolution’s overall merits;

 

  • If three speakers rise to speak on one side of the issue and no one rises to speak on the other side or to amend, the president may call for a vote. This ensures that those in support of a resolution have an opportunity to be heard while ensuring that there is enough time to consider all resolutions that the House needs to consider;

 

  • Motions to End Debate (f/k/a Previous Question) have been limited to any one item. This removes a commonly expressed frustration by which there are multiple motions pending and a person makes a motion to end debate on all motions at once. This can often create frustration since deputies may wish to end debate on an amendment and return to the resolution. When debate is cut off on all items, Deputy’s have expressed frustration that they can’t fully engage in considering a resolution. There is an overall thirty-minute time limit on debate on any one resolution, which ensures that debate cannot continue forever.

 

Other Changes

We have also proposed numerous other changes of a less substantive manner, including:

  1. Updating the motion list to serve both as a list of motions and a description of the purpose of the motions;
  2.  

  3. Clarifing the election and voting process;
  4.  

  5. Clarifing what options a legislative committee has to dispose a resolution;
  6.  

  7. Adding provisions to address the role of a parliamentarian and sergeant-at-arms in the work of the House.

 

Final Thoughts and Next Steps

The House of Deputies is a democratic body. These rules are your rules. If you choose to adopt them at this General Convention, they will guide and govern our deliberations. They will serve as a common understanding of how we will discern the future of the Episcopal Church. In this spirit, the Rules of Order Study Committee is providing this proposal for your review and comment. In doing so, we hope that your feedback will provide us an opportunity to improve and address your concerns before we develop our final draft.

We invite you to provide feedback by using this online survey by January 14. Once we receive your feedback, we will meet again and make some final changes to the proposed rules. The draft rules will then be forwarded to the House of Deputies Legislative Committee on the Rules of Order for hearings at General Convention.

The work this study committee has undertaken is intense. Each and every member has gone above and beyond in contributing to this work, both in person and in numerous long conference calls. Without their work, this draft would not be before you today and I am grateful for their hard work and dedication to this task.

I speak for all of us when I say we are excited for your feedback and comments on these proposed rules. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Peace,

Bryan W. Krislock, Esq.

Chair, House of Deputies Study Committee on the Rules of Order

Members of the Committee

The Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings

Sally A. Johnson, Esq.

Thomas A. Little, Esq.

The Hon. Byron Rushing

The Rev. Dr. James B. Simons 

 

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