The Pa. House needs rules to function properly | Opinion

(Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

By Christine Goldbeck

With 203 members, keeping order in the state House of Representatives requires an extensive set of rules, particularly those that govern discussion on the floor.

This session, there are 45 new representatives, all of whom are learning the intricacies of these rules.

Even those who have served in the House for many terms need procedural reminders, from time to time. That is why the House of Representatives employs a parliamentarian to oversee these procedural rules and make decisions about how they are applied.

The role of the parliamentarian is non-partisan, and the current Parliamentarian has served under both Republican and Democratic House speakers.

On May 8, the House debated amendments on House Bill 321, which seeks to ban abortion based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome. This step in the legislative process is known as “second consideration.” And it comes before a bill is to put to a final vote by the full House.

The amendments to the bill were ruled out of order. And after lengthy discussion and two votes on motions to uphold those rulings, the House positioned the bill for a final vote on May 14 — this past Tuesday. From there, the House went on to consider other bills.

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At this point, concerning HB321, the only timely motion to be made would have been a ‘reconsideration’ motion , which would have moved the bill a step backwards, returning it to second consideration.

State Rep. Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery, stood and asked for recognition after the bill had been moved to third consideration.

Democratic Leadership staff approached the rostrum and filed a motion to reconsider HB321. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, recognized Rep. Hanbidge on the motion. When a legislator is recognized to speak on a motion, he or she must speak only on the motion under consideration.

When Rep. Hanbidge was recognized on the motion to reconsider, she offered a motion to re-refer the bill to the House Judiciary Committee. The motion was untimely because the bill had already passed second consideration. It was also unrelated to the reconsideration motion filed by House Democratic leadership.

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Turzai reminded Hanbidge, twice, that she was recognized to speak on the motion to reconsider. She reiterated that she was offering a motion to re-refer the bill. Turzai then moved on to allow the House to vote on the motion to reconsider. The vote was taken; the motion failed.

At that time, no further motions on HB321 would have been timely. While that ended discussion of HB321 for the day, House lawmakers still had plenty to time to voice their concerns during floor debate on Tuesday. The House passed the bill on a 117-76 vote and sent it to the Senate for its consideration.

The topic of the bill played no part in the outcome of the situation on May 8. It is unfortunate that some would take this procedural ruling and turn it to partisan ends.

The House rules were followed.

Christine Goldbeck is Director of Communications to Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny. She writes from Harrisburg.

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