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The Young Turks report that a bill in Maryland is being "denied a vote" despite having many supporters and sponsors.

I'm not at all well-versed in US parliamentary procedure. From what I do know about other states (not within the USA), typically, a member of a parliament can propose legislation, and while whoever has the "speaker" or "chairperson of the parliament" position, or heads committees, can slow down the progress of the bill, they cannot prevent it from moving forward if it has proponents, and if majorities vote to move it forward.

What allows this "burrying" or "scuttling" of proposed bills without a vote? And - can this be done indefinitely or is it just some sort od a delay? The TYT report is a bit shallow and inspecific.

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  • @indigochild: HJ16 in Maryland. But I did want to make my question more general than that. Oh, I see you already answered...
    – einpoklum
    May 2 '17 at 7:13
  • @indigochild: Maybe I misheard the name. It's in the linked-to report on YouTube.
    – einpoklum
    May 2 '17 at 13:11
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This answer is specific to the Maryland legislative process.

Bill Introduction & Committee Process

The first step of the process is to have the bill introduced. In my state, it's considered poor taste to deny a bill introduction (although I can't say for sure that norm extends to other states).

Maryland has some restrictions on bills based on when they are introduced. Any bill may be freely introduced in the first 90 days of the year (January 11 - April 10, 2017). However, any bill introduced after the first 24 or 31 days (depending on which chamber we are talking about) must first go through a rules committee.

I haven't been able to find committee rules on the Maryland General Assembly's website, but in the states I am familiar with there is no requirement for the committee to vote on the bill. Many (perhaps most) bills die in committee without any action.

Although the committee chair has a lot of discretionary authority, the rest of the committee can force issues through. However, this requires support within the committee. Committee assignments are determined by chamber leadership, so it's possible that the relevant committees are strongly for or against any particular bill. This would make it difficult for a bill to be forced through a community.

Rules in the state of Maryland require a committee to work a bill before it goes to the rest of the chamber. If a bill can't get through its committee, it won't have a chance to be voted on in the rest of the legislature.

About HJ-6

The issue they are talking about in the video is House Joint Resolution #6 (HJ6). This resolution would ask for a Constitutional convention to be convened to discuss voting and electoral changes.

The resolution has 61 sponsors (of the 141 members of the House). However, only 7 of those sponsors are on the House Rules committee (it has 24 members total).

HR6 was introduced February 10, and the committee scheduled it's hearing on March 10. Maryland's electronic system includes no updates since then, so it's likely dead in committee. However, Maryland doesn't include meeting agendas or other information online, so I can't tell for sure what happened at that meeting.

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  • Update: Maryland bulk transfers all of their agendas and testimony to their website at the end of the month. Once that happens, I'll update this. May 2 '17 at 14:52
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From what I do know about other states, typically, a member of a parliament can propose legislation, and while whoever has the "speaker" or "chairperson of the parliament" position, or heads committees, can slow down the progress of the bill, they cannot prevent it from moving forward if it has proponents, and if majorities vote to move it forward.

What allows this "burrying" or "scuttling" of proposed bills without a vote?

@indigochild has answered the question in a Maryland specific way. I will address the more general case as your belief as to the general way parliamentary procedure works in U.S. state legislatures (which usually use the U.S. House of Representative rules as a starting point because tradition) is inaccurate.

The three reading process discussed below is almost universal and discussed at Wikipedia here. UK and Commonwealth and U.S. Senate practice is to refer a bill to committee after a second committee of the whole reading by the whole body regarding general principles, while the U.S. House and almost all state legislative bodies in the U.S. refer a bill to committee immediately after the first reading.

Also, a bill that has many sponsors, almost all of whom are from the minority party in a chamber, rarely has any chance of passing. Usually bills have lots of sponsors from the same party so that members of that party can show support for a bill that has little chance of passage as they don't expect to get a chance to vote on the bill on the merits because it is opposed by the other party.

  • Once a bill in introduced, in a chamber, it is generally assigned to a committee by the speaker of the chamber of the equivalent. This is called a "first reading". A Speaker should usually assign a bill to a relevant subject matter committee, but will sometimes assign it to a "kill committee" (in Colorado, this is the State Affairs committee) which is stacked with majority chosen for being loyal supporters of the speaker. Also, a speaker may require a bill to clear multiple committees before it reaches the full chamber. For example, a bill might be referred to both a human services committee and an appropriations committee and need to clear both before reaching the full chamber if the bill requires an expenditure of funds. Either committee could block the bill.

  • In a committee, the chair generally controls when, or if, a bill will ever receive a hearing. Failing to schedule a hearing can kill a bill. Committee members can override that decision, but usually don't.

  • A committee can vote to "table" a bill indefinitely causing it to die at the end of the current legislative session. It must generally affirmatively recommend that the whole chamber consider the bill for it to advance to that level. The whole chamber can vote to pull a bill out of committee and consider it, but it almost never does so, because usually a bill tabled in committee doesn't have majority support in the full chamber, and usually even if it does, members of the party that controls the chamber don't want to undermine the institutional power of the committee chairs and committees generally.

  • Once a bill is reported out of all relevant committees, it generally goes to a rules committee that determines when, if ever, the bill referred out of committee will be heard, for how long, and with what limitations on amendments. The Rules committee usually defers to the Speaker and like other kill committees is particularly loyal to the Speaker by dint of who is chosen to be appointed to that committee.

  • Only once all committees referenced in the first reading and the rules committee are cleared does a bill typically reach the floor of the whole chamber which meets as a "committee of the whole" to debate and amend the bill according to the terms set forth by the rules committee. This step is called a "second reading".

  • Once a final version of the bill is determined by the committee of the whole and approved (it can also be tabled indefinitely or voted down at that stage), it is represented to the full body for a vote on the merits of the finally amended version with no further amendments following an adjournment called a "third reading". A third reading must usually take place on a different legislative day than the second reading.

  • Even if a bill passes one chamber, in bicameral legislatures (all legislatures except Nebraska's in the U.S.) passage in one chamber must be followed by a repeat of the entire process in the other chamber. A delay in one chamber may leave insufficient time for consideration of the bill in time for passage during the current legislative session in the other chamber.

  • If two legislative chambers enact different version of a bill, the bill can be referred to a conference committee with members appointed by the leader of each chamber, but if the leader of a chamber doesn't want the bill to pass, the leader can decline to appoint anyone to the conference committee or can appoint members who want to undermine the bill. The whole chamber can override the leader on conference committee appointment, but rarely does so.

  • Since a legislative session is for a limited period of time (a often only few months in many state legislatures and two years in the U.S. Congress), any bill sufficiently delayed is defeated and cannot be considered without starting over from scratch in the next legislative session.

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  • By "states" I didn't mean "states which are part of the USA", I meant non-US states.
    – einpoklum
    May 2 '17 at 18:52
  • Ah. Most of those work very much like the U.K. (legislators are pretty much the most unoriginal people on Earth, if they can copy somebody else's idea, they will).
    – ohwilleke
    May 2 '17 at 20:42
  • I don't like to use "countries" to refer to the political entities; that's pretty problematic where I'm from (Israel/Palestine). Anyway, (1) is committee assignment entirely arbitrary in principle, or must there be at least some relevance? (2) If a bill has majority support in the whole chamber, aren't you saying they a member just put it up to a vote to pull the bill out of committee? Especially when it seems 'appropriate' in the sense that there not being any committee work to do for it? (3) Why not just propose immediately to pull out of committee, without waiting?
    – einpoklum
    May 2 '17 at 20:49
  • I'm not hung up on terminology, I just didn't catch you meaning in context. (1) Committee assignment is usually fairly rational and obvious but there are judgment calls and a "kill committee" is usually defined broadly enough to assign anything to it. (2) Often it takes a supermajority to pull it out of committee and anyway pulling out of committee would create conflict between partisan loyalty and a merits vote preference where partisanship usually wins absent a very good reason to do otherwise. (3) It is impossible in practice for the chamber to function without committee screening of bills.
    – ohwilleke
    May 3 '17 at 19:51

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