The COVID-19 pandemic has raised challenges across our church and beyond. In the House of Deputies, these have included the postponement of the General Convention and a shorter timeframe for legislative sessions at the 80th General Convention. In light of these challenges, the President of the House of Deputies and the Presiding Bishop have announced a plan for moving forward and tackling our work in a way that can create a more inclusive, collaborative General Convention.
Here is the proposed House of Deputies legislative committee workplan:
- Legislative committees were authorized to begin work in November 2021. Deputies and bishops are strongly encouraged to submit resolutions by February 28 in order to ensure that committees can consider resolutions and potential consolidations or substitutes.
- Beginning February 17, legislative committees will conduct remote online hearings on resolutions, which will be open to the public. The hearing schedules will be announced by the General Convention Office and publicized on the General Convention website. The hearings will be conducted following standard hearing rules for legislative committees.
- Following resolution hearings, committees will finalize their proposed amendments, consolidations, substitutes, and recommendations. The committees should finalize these actions by late spring/early summer. Committees are then expected to make provisional decisions that they will vote on in Baltimore at their first in-person meetings following a required omnibus hearing, described below.
- Two days before General Convention begins, legislative committees will hold in-person, omnibus hearings for all resolutions that were considered at electronic hearings. These hearings will be scheduled on July 5, the first day of committee work.
- Following omnibus hearings, legislative committees will vote to finalize or change their provisional decisions.
The goal of this process is to balance the need for public input with the need to frontload the legislative calendar. Because the 80th General Convention will be two days shorter than the 79th General Convention, it is vital to make sure we are able to make use of the limited legislative time we have. By following the process outlined above, we can ensure that the House of Deputies can hit the ground running.
Background on House of Deputies Rules interpretation:
Rules governing the House of Deputies committee process can be found in Section VIII of the House of Deputies Rules of Order (RHD). There are two key points:
- First, this section gives legislative committees authority to consider resolutions, propose resolutions, and make recommendations to the House.
- Second, before final resolution recommendations are submitted, committees must hold hearings that meet the requirements of the rules.
The House of Deputies rules explicitly allow the President to “direct any Legislative Committee to convene and consider matters referred to it prior to the time set for legislative committee meetings at the General Convention.” RHD VIII.A.6.iii. The only requirement is that the meeting takes place where all members can speak to and hear one another. Using this authority granted to her by the House, President Jennings has issued such a directive and the committees are empowered to begin their work.
The design of the hearing schedule outlined above is also in keeping with the Rules of Order and their mandatory requirements for public notice, timing and regulation of hearings. In particular, at least one hearing that meets the House of Deputies Rules of Order requirements must be held before a resolution is considered by the House of Deputies. As long as the omnibus hearings are held within two days of the start of the General Convention, they will meet that requirement. Nothing in the rules prohibits committees from holding additional hearings before this date or soliciting other input.
Legislative committees are empowered to consider and make recommendations on resolutions and matters referred to them. By holding electronic hearings, we are opening up the legislative process and ensuring that feedback on resolutions can be collected from across the church through an open process. At the same time, we are honoring the requirement that in-person hearings be held and ensuring that General Convention can hit the ground running with a pipeline of resolutions to act upon.
Never before has any church member, regardless of income, geographic location, or work commitments, been afforded an opportunity to provide testimony to a legislative committee. By undertaking this experiment in following the House of Deputies Rules of Order in a new way, we intend for the 80th General Convention to make history by including voices from across the church in our legislative deliberations.