Proposed legislative rules could shorten debate time

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Republicans in the Alabama Legislature have proposed rules that could curtail the ability of Democrats to temporarily slow debate on bills pushed by the GOP majority over the next four years.

Proposed rules in the House of Representatives end a longstanding practice of allowing up to two hours of debate on the special order calendar listing what bills will get floor votes that day. The speaker would decide the time allowed.

House Democrats on Monday expressed concern about that and a number of other changes aimed at speeding debate. Republican leaders contended the changes were modest attempts to encourage the “deliberative process.”

Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said he hopes the four-year term covered by the rules would be about finding common ground to address pressing issues in the state.

“In light of all of these things, where the other side it already a supermajority, they further reduce our ability to have our voices heard, and that’s of great concern to me,” he said.

Republicans hold 77 seats in the 105-member House, largely giving them the ability to control what passes.

Dragging out debate on the special order calendar has been a tactic employed for years by the minority party, whether that was Democrats or Republicans. The House in 2003 voted to limit debate to two hours, where previously there was no limit.

Assistant Minority Leader Merika Coleman said the special order debate time is an opportunity for lawmakers to express how their constituents feel about a particular piece of legislation and the time has been used as a negotiating tool to seek changes in the agenda or in a bill.

“This is supposed to be the people’s House, a house of debate,” Coleman said. “It doesn’t matter if you are conservative or if you are liberal or if you are independent, the best pieces of legislation actually end up being formed when everybody is forced, or chooses, to negotiate. People have to listen to each other,” Coleman said.

Democrats could still filibuster a bill before a vote, but Republicans typically have enough votes for cloture.

Another proposed rule change would affect the filibuster tactic of asking for bills to be read aloud on the House floor, a right guaranteed to lawmakers in the Alabama Constitution. The House speaker could set the speed at which a computer reads the bill.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon and Rules Chairman Mike Jones issued a statement about the changes. McCutcheon said most of the proposed rules are the same from last term but some changes are being proposed to encourage the deliberative process but not deny any member’s right to debate.

Jones said the rules have been worked on for months and should not come as a surprise to anyone.

“That said, it’s the intention of both the speaker and myself that these rules will be fully debated on the House floor,” Jones said.

Other changes deal with member discipline and debate on local resolutions.

Lawmakers begin their organizational session at noon Tuesday.


Republished with permission from the Associated Press.