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and procedure of each house as a unit in itself, and that matters necessitating concurrent action are delegated to joint committees. The house membership on joint committees greatly exceeds the senate, in Massachusetts the ratio being eight to three. They act and vote, however, as a unit; there is no house rivalry. They are, therefore, joint committees in reality. The rule in Massachusetts is that bills are to be reported back to either branch, having reference to an equal distribution of business between the two, except that money bills must go first to the House. The practice also permits a bill to be referred to two joint committees in turn sitting jointly, as for example, a bill relating to the sale of milk and cream was turned over to the committees on agriculture and public health.

It is not too much to say that the success of Massachusetts, the state in which the committee system is most highly developed, is due in a considerable measure to her joint committees. As pointed out by Professor Reinsch, public attention tends to be attracted to joint committees more than to innumerable committees of both houses.46 Committee sessions consequently become orderly and dignified. Advocates or opponents of legislation are not compelled to plead their cause twice, and duplication of clerical duties is escaped. Opportunity is given to reduce the number of bills which the houses must consider by combining bills on the same topic into one which embodies the good points of all,47 and a broader view is possible than can be acquired by committees of a single house.

The objection to the joint committee is that it substitutes a single consideration of a measure for consideration by each house separately, which is the theory of the bicameral system, and on this ground Vermont at the last session abolished all joint committees.48 But even granting that the spirit of the bicameral system is violated, a question certainly open to argument, it would seem that the rights of both houses would be sufficiently safeguarded if a bill passed by one house were received by the other as with a favorable report unless the committee representation of that house declared them

46 Reinsch, "Legislatures and Legislative Methods."

47 This is successfully accomplished in Connecticut where the work of drafting the substitute is turned over to the clerk of committees, who is an experienced official. The advantages of joint action are admitted also in those states whose rules permit joint hearings. Wisconsin has especially availed herself of this privilege.

48 See Report of the Committee to Revise the Rules, 1917, p. 9.

selves as opposed.49 As long as opportunity remained for one body to refer a measure to a committee of their own number the matter of separate discussion would receive all the attention it deserves.


In case of serious differences between the two houses the good offices of a conference committee are called in.50 But as a rule, amendments proposed by one house are generally adopted by the other and consequently there are few difficulties serious enough to call for conferences.51 An examination of the journals will disclose that they are seldom employed until late in the session when the rush of the closing hours is impending; that they are seldom unsuccessful; and that their reports are universally adopted. The situation is therefore charged with possibilities for evil in the opportunity afforded for making trades which are seldom investigated by the house as a whole. The general parliamentary law that the report of a conference committee cannot be amended in either house 52 increases the inclination to accept any compromise the committee may offer. The secrecy of proceedings in the conference is increased by the rule that the minority of the committee cannot report.53

49 Suggested in memorandum of Vermont Legislative Reference Bureau prepared for the Legislature, 1916.

50 The first constitution of New York provided a most cumbersome method of managing disagreements. The two houses were to meet in a conference managed by committees from both. (Constitution of 1777, Art. XV. Abrogated in the Constitution of 1821.) By this method the secret bargaining which now features the work of committees of conference was avoided.

51 At the 1915 session of the Illinois Legislature conference committees were used but eleven times and in each case the report was adopted. The Oklahoma Legislature of the same year adopted the reports of the ten conference committees appointed, and in Massachusetts in 1916 nine of the ten conference committees agreed on reports which were accepted. There were only five conference committees in Indiana at the 1915 session. These cases are typical.

52 Jefferson's Manual ¶535. In California enforced by Joint Rule 9, and in Maine by J. R. 13. By a recent decision in Pennsylvania a conference committee report was permitted to be amended by a concurrent resolution. (Legislative Journal, 1913, p. 5230.) Otherwise the formula must be to recommit by concurrent resolution with instructions to amend. The rules of some legislatures allow no other action than acceptance or rejection.

53 5 Hinds 6406; Pa. H. J. 1850, pp. 1216-1218.

* See Index-Digest, State Constitutions, pp. 838, 842-843.

In order to bring the conference report to the attention of the members, who, as we have seen, are quite willing to accept on faith the compromise presented to them, it is sometimes required that it be printed and on the desks of the members before final vote. This becomes a constitutional mandate whenever the constitution requires the printing of amendments or of the bill in final form.54


A bill in committee is out of the hands of the house until reported back or the committee is discharged. In order to prevent the quiet chloroforming of bills without the committee going on record, possible when bills are retained indefinitely, the rules in twenty-five states provide that the committee must act within a specified time. The time allowed varies from four days in Colorado to twenty-five in Minnesota, although it is unusual to enforce this limit with any rigidity.55 The rules of the California Senate prescribe that committees shall report "as soon as practicable," and in Kentucky a member may call up a bill "after a reasonable time." "

Although it is clear that it should be made easy to place a bill before the house after it has been in committee a reasonable time, to place a bill automatically on the calendar after the expiration of a certain number of days, as is done in North Dakota, robs the committee of legitimate selective power. No bill should adorn the calendar without the favorable action of a committee unless at least 25 per cent of the house are willing to assent to discharge the committee. Thus Delaware permits the discharge of a committee after ten days upon the request of eighteen (about one-half of the House) 57 and New Jersey at the request of fifteen (about one-fourth) upon one day's notice.58 In Utah, however, the speaker alone is granted this power on four days' notice, and in North Carolina the author may recall the bill after five days in committee.59

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55 For experience of Iowa see Shambaugh, "Statute Law Making in Iowa,' p. 224. For experience of California see Hickborn, "The California Legislature of 1909," p. 12.

56 California Senate Rule 34; Kentucky House Rule 37.

57 House Rule 27.

58 House Rule 67.

59 House Rule 3 (Utah); North Carolina House Rule 51. In the senates of Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio and in both houses in Indiana, one member may demand return after a specified time,

It is the right of a house to get measures before it easily. Occasionally, however, the discharge of a committee is made so difficult that it becomes virtual master of the legislation entrusted to its consideration. The rules of the Illinois House require a majority vote of all elected to discharge a committee; twenty-four hours' notice must be given and the motion can be entertained on but three days a week.60 New York likewise requires a constitutional majority to discharge a committee, but the motion cannot be put until the committee has been ten days in possession of the measure.61 Under such circumstances it is practically impossible for the house to regain possession of a bill in the hands of an unwilling committee. The situation was so serious in Michigan, where under the two-thirds rule a minority could prevent the discharge of a committee throughout the session, that the present constitution prohibits the legislature from passing any rule which would prevent a majority of the members from taking a bill out of the hands of a committee.62

After some painful experience with "pickling committees" the Pennsylvania House has since 1913 permitted sixty members (less than one-third of the body) to discharge a committee which had held a bill ten days. Here the difficulty had been further complicated by a ruling that a motion to discharge a committee must be made under the order of resolutions,63 which was in order only on Monday night and Friday morning. The House never met on Friday and, as the session on Monday night was limited to one hour, opportunity to move discharge rarely came.64 But in the reforms of 1913, "Resolutions" was made the fourth order of regular business for each sitting.

It is highly advisable that all committee calendars be cleared up and all business reported back before a stated time in the session, a practice that is perfectly feasible where the time for introduction. of measures is limited. Thus one portion of the legislative activity

60 House Rule 12.

61 House Rule 10.

62 Debates, Michigan Constitutional Convention, 1907-08, p. 1421.

63 H. J., 1878, p. 742.

64 House Rule 62 for 1911 and earlier. If the motion to discharge was unwelcome to the organization the Monday night hour was always consumed before the order of Resolutions was reached.

would be gotten over with, say half way in the session, leaving the remainder of the time for discussion on the floor. The rush and riot of the closing days is happily avoided in Massachusetts and much credit must be given to the custom by which the presiding officers keep account of the manner in which committee work is proceeding, comparing progress this year with the calendar of last year, and if a committee is found to be dilatory, they do not hesitate to apply pressure.65

There exists some difference of opinion as to the advisability of requiring committees to report on all matters referred to them. The Massachusetts special committee of 1915 voiced a violent protest against the practice of a committee report on every measure. Committees are compelled, they argue, to consider frivolous measures, and the calendars are crowded with adverse reports which are seldom overthrown but which consume the time of both houses. The recommendation was accordingly made that a committee unanimous against a bill need not report, thus opening the way for prompt consideration of the more important matters.66 On the other hand, it is urged that committees be compelled to report every measure and that the house take formal action on all. But it is a useless waste of legislative energy to require committees to consider measures to which the committee is unanimously opposed or which a reasonable fraction of the house does not favor. Although mere silence should not stifle legislation and to escape committee tyranny discharge should be made easy, it is in keeping with the dignity and responsibility which a committee should feel to allow it discretion in 'selecting measures upon which to devote attention.

Where committees are not compelled to report upon each meas

65 Joint Rule 10 specifies at what time the final report of all committees must be in, which time may be once extended. Three days after the final limit committees must report with the recommendation that the bill be referred to the next General Court. This recommendation is of course perfunctory, and may be overthrown without opposition from the committee, although it requires a four-fifths vote to do so. This permits a bill to be killed by committee by mere delay unless an overwhelming majority is in its favor. The advantage, however, is found in that it gets all the business of the session before the house in time to dispose of it in an orderly manner.

66 Committee upon Reform of Procedure, 1915, report pp. 43, 44. In 1914, 1431 matters were reported adversely by unanimous committee vote. These were read by both clerks and went on both calendars. Allowing two minutes for each measure, sixteen legislative days were thus consumed.

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