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07/27/2021 03:00 PM
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https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=S&SPick=20210&cosponId=34471
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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: January 29, 2021 11:18 AM
From: Senator John I. Kane and Sen. Katie J. Muth, Sen. Lindsey M. Williams
To: All Senate members
Subject: Rules Reform: Mandating a Two-Thirds Vote for Certain Motions
 
In the near future, we will be introducing a resolution amending the Senate Operating Rules to mandate a two-thirds vote of the senate to suspend the rules, change the rules, or call the previous question. This proposed resolution is among a package of Senate Rules Reform Resolutions, many of which are included in SR4, that are intended to empower members of both sides of the aisle to effectively advocate for their constituents. This package of Rules Reforms will ensure transparency in the legislative process, encourage public participation, and hold members accountable to the public.  

Twice during the 2019-2020 legislative session, the majority party motioned to “call the question” (also referred to as the “nuclear option”) on critically important bills: HB33, which, in the form that passed, eliminated the general assistance program, and HB2025, a bill that, though ultimately vetoed, would have created obstacles to Pennsylvanian’s entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This motion allows the majority party to instantly end all debate on the bill and prohibit amendments from being offered by forcing an immediate vote on the previous question, usually voting on the bill as is. 
This undemocratic motion, passed by a simple majority, allows one party to silence the debate and those elected to represent Pennsylvanians.  It is a direct abuse of power enshrined in the current Senate Operating Rules. 

Similarly, the majority party can fast-track bills by suspending the rules to override the required time for a bill amended in committee to be on the legislative calendar before being brought up for a vote. This can be done again by a simple majority vote. They can also, by a simple majority vote, change the rules to favor the majority, as we witnessed with the passage of SR3 at the beginning of this session, which granted special committees, whose members are appointed by the president pro tempore, subpoena power, a privilege normally only held by the Senate’s standing committees. 

When one party controls the creation of the rules, any editing or changing of the rules, and the suspension of the operating rules, it does not encourage bipartisanship or democratic proceedings. Instead, it creates a defacto one party system, that allows only some senatorial district’s voices to matter, while silencing many others.  Because of this imbalance of power favoring the majority party, we are proposing legislation that would mandate all motions to suspend the rules, change the rules, or call the previous question to require a two-thirds vote of the chamber to pass. This would ensure that electeds from both parties are able to have a say in the procedural operations of the senate and not allow one party authoritarian power to dictate the calendar and opportunities for debate as they see fit. 

These changes are long overdue and we need to fight for democratic processes that encourage us to work across the aisle, ensure transparency, and allow for fairness so that all members can adequately represent their constituencies.

Please join us in cosponsoring this important change to the Senate Operating Rules.
 



Introduced as SR114