Adoption of new session’s House Rules draws controversy

Adoption of new session’s House Rules draws controversy

Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, January 3, 2017/Categories: News and Views

While normally a day of ceremony, the sole piece of legislation voted on by the House during Tuesday’s swearing-in session day—two resolutions that provide for the implementation of the internal operating rules of the House of Representatives for the two year session—drew controversy from lawmakers.


The resolutions—House Resolution 1, which includes the provisions for the carrying-over and amending of existing House Rules; and House Resolution 2, which made House Resolution 1 unamendable—did pass by wide margin, though not without debate.


Namely, Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) stood on the House Floor arguing members had not had time to review changes to the rules, offer amendments, or discuss issues they find with their various caucus leaders.


In substance, House Resolution 1 carries over the rules of the House of Representatives for the previous session, but with a number of changes. Heavily overhauled were portions governing the makeup and operations of the House Ethics Committee, with changes developed by the committee and prepared in a recommendation made by the group at the end of the 2015-2016 session.


“The need for clear guidance in ethics matters and the committee process and procedures evolved as a result of committee activities over the last several legislative sessions,” said last session's Ethics Committee Majority Chairman Scott Petri (R-Bucks) when the recommendations were approved by the committee.


Recommended changes adopted by the committee included suggestions to make House Rule 47 part of the House Ethical Conduct Rules, clarify the standing nature and jurisdictional authority of the committee, require the adoption of committee rules, give clarification on the status of the committee during sine die, and provide greater clarity during the committee preliminary and formal investigative stages, among others.


In addition, the rules changes altered the way bills are considered by shortening the time by which bills on concurrence can be considered by the House after amendment in the Senate, down from 24 hours to just six hours.


Changes also include who can be recognized during debate on the General Appropriations Bill and non-preferred appropriations legislation, limiting debate for most members to just being recognized one time for five minutes.


Additional changes to budget procedure include extending notice given to members that the budget will be considered—crucial for the timely filing of amendments—to 4:30 p.m. on the day that is nine days before the day the budget will be considered. Amendments must be filed with the Chief Clerk’s office by 2:00 p.m. four days prior to that day.


The rules also make changes to the committee structure in the Pennsylvania House, adding two subcommittees: one to the House Appropriations Committee—the Subcommittee on Government and Financial Oversight—and one to the House Education Committee—the Subcommittee on Career and Technical Education.


Standing committee chairs are also changed from being ex officio members of standing subcommittees to full-fledged voting members of those subcommittees.


Other changes in the House Rules include disallowing the use of campaign funds for events in House offices except for swearing-in celebrations; removes the 60-day blackout on mass mailers from members standing for election as a candidate and changes it merely to a “restricted period” of 60-days prior to an election; stops the ability of the Ethics Committee from investigating a members in the 60-day period prior to an election for which they stand as a candidate; and removes the ability of members to form legislative non-profits.


After attempts to delay the vote on the new House Rules, they were eventually approved by a vote of 167-32.