The Standards for Full and Fair Debate
Those watching last week’s passionate floor debate on LB627(Pansing Brooks) were likely confused by how the debate ended – and what the vote even meant. The end of the debate was as much about legislative procedure as it was the underlying issue of LGBTQ employment nondiscrimination.
In recent years, senators have become frustrated by the de’ja’ vu fate of the nondiscrimination bill, where debate lasts for three hours and the Speaker then pulls the bill off the agenda without a vote. The Speaker does this unless the author can prove s/he has enough votes to end a filibuster. A vote to end a filibuster – a cloture vote – requires a supermajority of the body, which is 33 votes. Remember, a regular vote to approve a bill is only 25 votes. So, cloture votes typically translate to support or opposition to a bill. For instance, if a bill gets 32 votes for cloture (to end a filibuster), the cloture motion fails because it didn’t get the required 33, but 32 votes still demonstrate that a significant majority of the body likely supports the underlying bill and that maybe it could cross the finish line in the future. Senators who supported LB627 knew they did not have enough votes to stop a filibuster, but did believe they had a majority or close to it – more votes than ever before. If LB627 was going to go down anyway, the strategy was to try and force a vote to demonstrate momentum in the body for LGBTQ employment nondiscrimination legislation in the future.
Senator Matt Hansen made a procedural move – he “called the question” to try and force a vote on the bill before the Speaker could pull the bill for not having 33 votes. The Speaker then ruled there had not been “full and fair debate” since there were 15 senators in line to speak. Senator Hansen made a motion to overrule the chair and force a vote. A motion to overrule the chair needed a simple majority of 25 aye votes. That was the motion that senators voted on in the end and it lost with 26 senators voting against overruling the chair. This then allowed the Speaker to pull LB627 off the agenda because the debate time had reached three hours and the introducer could not prove that she had 33 votes to end a filibuster. Senators Hansen and Pansing Brooks argued that it was inconsistent for the Speaker to rule that there had not been full and fair debate, while then proceeding to take the bill off the agenda after three hours and require the introducer to show 33 votes. Senator Pansing Brooks argued that if there had not been full and fair debate, the debate should continue until the usual period for full and fair debate. Six hours is generally considered the minimum time for full and fair debate when a bill is being filibustered.
There are many Capitol insiders who do not like the three-hour rule. Prior to Speaker Scheer instituting this procedure, those who wanted to filibuster a bill would have to put the work into it to get to six hours. Under these old procedures, introducers of LB627 could have gotten a vote on cloture in the end, signifying true support/opposition for the bill, and have the satisfaction of bringing their issue to some sort of recorded vote conclusion.
The vote on the motion to overrule the chair on LB627 was thus not a final measurement of support for the bill. Several senators who supported the bill voted not to overrule the chair, including Senator John McCollister, who spoke out on social media in favor of LB627.
Priorities Are Coming
Deadlines are approaching fast for priority bill designations. Thursday is the deadline for senators to make requests for speaker priorities (Speaker gets to designated 25 priority bills) and March 19 is the deadline for committee (two priority bills per committee) and senator priorities (one priority per senator). Soon it will all be about priorities (bills generally considered ahead of other bills in debate) and we will have a clearer understanding of the agenda for the remainder of session.
Sorry, I Can’t Hear You
If you ever watch live stream of legislative hearings, you may have noticed some rather awkward drilling sounds during some of the hearings last week. The HVAC project in the Capitol sometimes produces loud noises in legislative offices. We found out last week that hearings rooms aren’t immune to the noise either. A couple of the testifiers and senators were trying to restrain giggles during some untimely drilling noises during the hearings last week.
Turns out, hearing was a bit of a challenge at the hearings.
Until Next Week.
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall