By Chris Micheli
Each standing committee of the Senate (there are 21 of them) and Assembly (there are 32 of them) operate under the Joint Rules of the Legislature, as well as the Standing Rules of the Senate and Assembly, respectively. Each standing committee may adopt rules governing the operation of their committees. These committee rules set forth the procedures and guidelines that are used to conduct the business of the legislative committee.
These rules set forth the date, time and location of the committee hearings and that a majority of the committee’s member constitute a quorum, which allows the committee to officially operate. Most committees’ rules contain the following provisions:
Committee Worksheets — When a bill (or constitutional amendment or resolution) is referred to the committee, then the committee staff provides the bill’s author a worksheet (“Background Information Request”) to be completed as part of the preparation of the Committee analysis.
Setting Bills – As a general rule, no bill may be set, nor file notice published, until it has been referred to a committee. Once referred, the Committee may set the bill for any available hearing date, at its discretion. Recall that no bill may be heard or acted upon until, after its introduction, it has been in print for 30 days. This rule may be suspended concurrently with the suspension of the requirement of Section 8(a) of Article IV of the California Constitution.
Notices – A bill of first reference being heard in the Committee must be noticed in the Daily File at least four days prior to a hearing. Otherwise, notice must be published in the Daily File two days prior to the hearing. This requirement can be waived by a majority vote of the Assembly.
Three Set Limit – A bill may be set for hearing in a Committee only three times. A bill is considered “set” when it has been noticed in the Daily File for one or more days. If the author postpones the hearing of a bill, or submits amendments causing the hearing to be rescheduled, such action may count as a set. If the Committee postpones the hearing on the bill, such action does not count as a set. This requirement may be suspended by approval of the Rules Committee and a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the Assembly.
Committee Analyses — A Committee analysis is required for every bill. Analyses are generally made available to the public at least one working day prior to the hearing, with a working day being defined as any day on which the Assembly Daily File is published. In the case of special meetings, analyses are made available to the public at the beginning of the hearing.
Order of Agenda – The general rule is that bills of the Committee members are taken up after all other authors present have taken up their measures. The Committee consent calendar may be taken up as determined by the Chair. When the Chair finds that another order of business would be more expedient, measures may be taken up out of order or set as a special order of business.
Author’s Representative — If a bill is to be presented by someone other than the author, it will be taken up after all present authors (including those temporarily “passed over” and Committee members) have been accommodated. The representative must be an Assemblymember or Senator, a member of the author’s staff, or staff of an Assembly or Senate committee. No lobbyist, sponsor or supporter of the bill may present the bill before the Committee. Staff or members other than the author wishing to present the bill must first provide the Committee with a signed authorization letter from the author.
Amending Bills – The usual rules are that, when submitting amendments to Legislative Counsel for a bill in the possession of the Committee, or such a bill in the subsequent possession of the Senate or Assembly Floors, the author’s office shall provide a copy to the Committee as a courtesy.
Author’s Amendments Offered in Committee – The general rule is that, if an author offers amendments at the hearing, and the amendments are substantive, the Chair may put the bill over to allow adequate time for Committee staff to reanalyze the bill and provide an updated analysis to the Committee members. The Chair shall determine whether or not an amendment is substantive. Committee staff shall be responsible for preparing any amendments adopted in Committee.
Meetings — All Committee meetings, except for an authorized closed session, are open and public, and all persons shall be allowed to attend the meetings. A special meeting can be held in an area readily accessible to the public and not in the Chambers, and the Committee must take care that every effort is made to inform the public that a meeting has been called.
Limits on Testimony — When it is necessary, due to the number or complexity of the bills on the agenda at a hearing, to limit testimony on one or more of the bills in order to ensure that all of the bills on the agenda have a fair and reasonable opportunity to be presented and discussed by the Committee, the Chair, at his or her discretion, may limit testimony, the number of witnesses, etc.
Role of the Vice Chair — If, at a hearing commenced by the Chair, the Chair is not present or otherwise is presenting a bill to the Committee, the Vice-Chair temporarily presides. If the Vice-Chair is absent when the Chair must also be absent, the Chair may designate another Committee member to temporarily assume his or her duties.
Voting – A quorum is required to conduct official business. A majority of the entire Committee constitutes a quorum. A quorum is necessary to take action or to adopt amendments. Any vacancy on the Committee does not reduce the number of votes required to take action on a bill. The Chair may, at any time, order a call of the Committee. If requested by any member of the Committee or the author of the bill under consideration, the Chair shall order a call. In such a case, the Chair shall send the Sergeant-at-Arms for those members who are absent and not excused by the Assembly. If a quorum is not present, the Chair may commence the hearing as a subcommittee and receive testimony on any scheduled bill. A majority of the entire Committee is required to report a bill out of Committee. Committee action on bills, including reconsideration, shall be by roll call vote, and shall show all votes for and against, all members absent, and all members not voting. In the case of a tie vote, a motion fails. The final action of the Committee shall be announced by the Chair.
Making of Motions — A member who desires to make a motion shall first obtain recognition by the Chair. The member then opens by stating his or her motion, and may not speak to the merits of the motion at that time, but confines any remarks to those necessary to explain the motion. If the motion is in order and is seconded, the Chair shall state such to the Committee. If the motion is debated, the Member who made the motion shall be recognized to open debate on the motion.
Reconsideration – In committees, reconsideration of a bill may be granted only one time. And there are specified instances where a motion to reconsider can be made.
Interim Study and Information Hearings – A Committee may refer the subject matter of any bill to the Rules Committee for interim study by a majority of those present and voting or by unanimous consent. The Committee may, however, subsequently reconsider and act on the bill. In addition, the Chair may call the Committee to sit during interim or recess to conduct public hearings, gather information, discuss proposed legislation, or for any other proper purpose, conditioned on the approval of the Speaker and publication of the appropriate four-day file notice.
Letters of Support and Opposition — Letters communicating a formal position on a bill (support, opposition, concerns, etc.) must be received by the Committee by a specified day the week preceding the scheduled hearing of the bill in order for the position to be referenced in some form in the analysis. Letters received after that time may be referenced at the discretion of the Committee Consultant.
Public Records — The Committee Secretary is the custodian of the Committee’s legislative records. The Secretary preserves the Committee’s current legislative records and may store the Committee’s past legislative records with the State Archives. The legislative records contained in an official Committee file that are in the possession of the Secretary are open to inspection and reproduction by the public in the Committee office by appointment during normal working hours, subject to Assembly requirements. The records held in the State Archives are open to inspection and reproduction pursuant to the procedures established by the Secretary of State.
Committee Bills – The general rule is that a Committee may introduce a bill germane to any subject within the proper consideration of the Committee in the same manner as any member. A committee bill must contain the signature of a majority of the members of the Committee, including the Chair. The Committee, at the discretion of the Chair, may consolidate related subject matter into a single legislative proposal whenever appropriate.
Most committees of the California Legislature have adopted similar rules to those outlined above. However, each is free to adopt its own rules so long as there are not contrary to the Standing Rules of the house, nor the Joint Rules of the Legislature.
Chris Micheli is an attorney and registered lobbyist with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law.