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House leadership proposing changes to legislative rules

The GOP-controlled Alabama House could alter its rules for how it handles and debates proposed amendments to bills and how much public notice is needed before committee meetings are called late in sessions.

Lawmakers, including more than 30 newly elected last year, will gather in Montgomery for a two-day organizational session starting at noon today.

Besides finalizing leadership in both the House and Senate and committee assignments, each chamber will vote to adopt rules for the next four years.

“The proposed changes to House Rules are intended to expand transparency and efficiency of the legislative process for House Members and the people of Alabama,” Rep. Joe Lovvorn, R-Auburn, who has been slated to be the next House Rules Committee chairman, told Alabama Daily News. “I look forward to discussing and finalizing our rules and procedures as we conduct the organizational session and prepare for the upcoming regular session.”

House leaders were finalizing their suggested changes Monday evening. The site 1819 News first reported on the proposals Monday morning.

A draft of the proposed House rules document, shared with ADN by leadership, includes a change to allow committee leaders to give four-hour notice of meetings on bills received from the Senate after the 20th legislative day. Currently, 24-hour notice is required up to the 27th of 30 legislative days.

Other changes include: 

  • Rule 14: Would allow the speaker to re-refer a bill to another committee once it has been given a favorable vote in the committee it was originally assigned. This was done very rarely previously. 
  • Rule 23: Currently, a member of a county’s delegation can contest a local bill — one that applies to just one county — and delay its advancement. This rule change would delay a bill if at least 11 members from outside the county contest it. If a bill is contested, a vote by the entire House is required before it can be considered by the chamber.
  • Rule 65: Adds the Ports, Waterways and Intermodal Transit Committee to the list of standing committees and strikes the Technology and Research Committee.
  • Rule 69: Currently, committee amendments to bills are debated and voted on separately on the House floor, with no limit on debate. This change would put all committee amendments into an engrossed substitute to be considered on the floor.

During the last organizational session four years ago, House Republicans altered the body’s rules to reduce the time members could use to debate the day’s agenda, a change Democrats vehemently opposed. Yet, many rank-and-file members still complain about the time it takes to pass bills, many times because of prolonged debate on each motion needed to adopt bills and amendments.

The Senate’s proposed new rules will be made public today when they are introduced. Secretary of the Senate Pat Harris said they don’t differ much from the current rules and include splitting the current Government Affairs Committee into two committees, one handling state government legislation, the other handling local government bills.

Another change would allow the Senate Majority Leader to appoint a majority whip.

The regular session begins in March.

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