A look at Capitol hearings, sessions and floor action

Chamber of the state Assembly in the Capitol, Sacramento. (Photo: Felix Lipov)

(Ed’s Note: This is the third in a series of detailed articles dealing with the inner workings of  legislative procedure in the Capitol. In this installment, we focus on committee hearings, floor actions and special sessions.)

Misconception: Since the legislative calendar says no committees may meet during the last two weeks of the session, that is always the case.
Reality: Nope.
With a rule waiver, committees can meet during this time period on bills that were heavily amended in the other house.

Misconception: Super majority vote bills must pass out of committee by a super majority vote.
Reality: Nope. 
All bills require only a simple majority vote in committee for passage. The higher vote requirement, if specified by the Legislative Counsel,  only applies on the floor of the Senate or Assembly.

Misconception: A committee can pass a bill based upon a majority of the committee members present.
Reality: Nope
The majority vote requirement applies to the full membership of the committee. If there are nine members on a committee, five votes are required to pass a bill, even if only seven members are voting on the bill due to abstentions or absences.

Misconception: The Joint Rules related to committee deadlines apply to all committees.
Reality: Well, sort of.
This is the general rule, but the Rules Committees in both houses are exempt from these deadlines.

Misconception: Both the Assembly and Senate fill vacancies on committees for each hearing.
Reality: Yes and No
The Assembly Speaker may appoint a replacement Member for a committee hearing when a member of that committee is absent for the day. This is the regular practice of the Assembly. In the Senate, on the other hand, the Rules Committee does not fill absent slots for committee hearings.

Misconception: Any committee may establish a suspense file for bills.
Reality: Not any more
Until this year, there has been no limitation in either house. In the Assembly, under the 2017-18 Rules adopted, only the Appropriations Committee may establish a suspense file.

Misconception: A chair cannot preside at a committee hearing on a bill for which he or she is the author.
Reality: Right, mostly.
Under Assembly Rule 60, a chair cannot preside where he or she is the sole or lead author of a bill, except this rule does not apply to the Budget Committee Chair when the hearing is on the Budget Bill of which he or she is the author.

Misconception: Notice of a meeting of a conference committee must appear in the Daily File for the same four days as other committee hearings.
Reality: Sort of.
A notice of a conference committee meeting requires only one calendar day notice prior to the meeting, but this rule is not applicable to the Budget Bill conference committee.

Misconception: The Appropriations Committees in the Assembly and Senate are conducted in the same manner.
Reality: No.
The Senate Appropriations Committee allows support and opposition testimony at hearings, even where the author waives presentation. The Assembly generally does not. Regarding their suspense files, the Assembly committee goes through bills by subject matter, while the Senate committee goes through bills by author. In addition, the Assembly votes to pass a bill or announces which bills are held on suspense, while the Senate only votes on bills it will pass off of the suspense file.

Misconception: Legislators in either house can add on or change their votes on bills.
Reality: Yes, but…
The Assembly allows its Members to add or change votes after the vote has been announced, so long as the final vote is not impacted.  The Senate does not allow this, except for the Senate Leader and the Senate Republican Leader, so long as the final outcome of the bill is not affected.

Misconception: All bills without opposition are placed on the consent calendar.
Reality: Nope.
There are different rules between the Senate and Assembly regarding what is a measure for the consent calendar on their floors. For example, under Senate Rule 28.3(a), if a Senate bill or Assembly bill is amended in the Senate to create a new bill or to rewrite the bill, a standing committee may not place the bill on its consent calendar.

Misconception: “Pass on file” and “pass and retain” are the same procedurally.
Reality: Very similar.
An author may choose to “pass on file,” thus temporarily giving up his or her opportunity to take up a measure on the floor. In the Assembly, “pass and retain” prevents the author from taking up his or her bill for that legislative day. The Senate does not recognize a difference.

Misconception: The floor analyses always list supporters and opponents of the measure.
Reality: Nope.
The Senate floor analyses list support and opposition positions, but the Assembly does not list any positions on their floor analyses.

Misconception: Parliamentary inquiries and points of personal privilege are the same.
Reality: Nope.
A parliamentary inquiry is a procedural question posed by a legislator during a committee hearing or floor session. A point of personal privilege is an assertion by a member that his or her rights, reputation, or conduct have been impugned, and that the member needs the opportunity to repudiate the allegations.

Misconception: The three constitutionally-required readings of bills are the same.
Reality: Different circumstances.
Each bill must be read three times in each house before final passage. First reading occurs upon introduction of the bill. Second reading occurs after a bill has been reported to the floor from committee (with or without amendments). Third reading occurs when the measure is about to be taken up on the floor of either house for final passage.

Misconception: The Lieutenant Governor can break a tie vote in either house.
Reality: Nope.
The lieutenant governor is the President of the Senate, which is primarily a ceremonial role, except in the case of a tie vote, and the lieutenant governor can break. In the Assembly, however, the motion or bill fails in the case of a tie vote.

Misconception: The Governor can call a special session for any reason.
Reality: No. The constitution says only in “extraordinary occasions” can the governor by proclamation force the Legislature to assemble in special session. This is also the reason why “special sessions” are formally called “extraordinary sessions.”

Misconception: The Legislature must enact bills when called into special session.
Reality: No.
While the Legislature must convene the special session once it has been called by the Governor, there is no legal requirement that any legislation be enacted, nor even be voted upon.

Ed’s Note: Chris Micheli is an attorney and registered lobbyist at the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law.


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