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mittees" as fruitful of hasty, improvident and fraudulent legislation. 83

But the pressure on the calendar increased and in 1872 a committee was created with power at any time to report bills of a general nature, which were then placed upon a preferred calendar having precedence over unfinished business. 84 This special privilege was denied at the next session, but in 1886 a new committee became the recipient of the old power. 85 The latter committee was abolished in 1890 to be followed by the all-powerful rules committee of 1892. In the session of this year the rules were amended to provide that all motions to make a bill a special order, or to suspend the rules for the purpose of reading a bill out of its regular order, be referred to the committee on rules. This committee was empowered to report at any time and its decision was final unless overthrown by twothirds of the members present. 86 The next year the exercise of this unusual power of determining what measures should be promoted was restricted to the last ten days of the session, 87 and this time limit remains today.88 The number required to overturn a report of this all-powerful committee was reduced in 1900 from two-thirds to a simple majority vote, but nevertheless its judgment remains wellnigh final since the program which it presents is in practice never overthrown. When it is also remembered that it requires a majority of all the members elected to instruct the rules committee to report, its obstructive authority during the last days of the session, as well as its power to accelerate, is seen to be immense. Furthermore the time in which "Rules" is in the saddle is invariably extended beyond the prescribed ten days by the simple precaution of setting a day for adjournment ahead of the date on which the legislature's business can possibly be completed.89

It is the custom in New York further to strengthen the position of this committee by a resolution towards the close under which all matters pending before the various other committees are referred

83 New York Assembly, Document No. 7, 1857.

84 New York Assembly Journal, 1872, p. 603.

85 New York Assembly, Document No. 5, 1887.

86 Assembly Journal, 1892, p. 484.

87 Assembly Journal, 1893, p. 2002.

88 New York Assembly, Rule 24.

89 In 1911 the rules committee was in charge from May 8th to October 6th. As a rule it governs for a month each session.

to it. Thenceforth "Rules" may be said to be the only committee functioning. As bills in its possession are reported out, they are made special orders on second and third reading.

It would be hard to imagine a method by which a house could more completely subject itself to the control of three members and the speaker, who is ex-officio chairman of "Rules," and still retain the form of a freely deliberating body. From the very beginning the committee seems to have abused its power, the spirit of the standing rules being wholly repudiated. Bills from the bottom of the calendar were moved to the top without attracting the attention which would have followed a motion put to the house. The fate of all measures fell immediately into the hands of these men, and although "Rules" quickly began to monopolize the time of the Assembly, it did not act with the discretion which would have served the end advocated, viz., the advancement of important business which otherwise might never have reached final action.90 The completeness with which individual members surrendered themselves to the party bosses appears from the two-thirds vote necessary, until 1913, to instruct "Rules" to report. But even under the modified rule of a simple majority the committee is rarely compelled to act, and probably the first instance in which this was accomplished occurred on the closing day of the 1912 session after a majority of members had informally petitioned the committee to release the bill in question


The rules committee of the New York Assembly does not relieve the congestion of the closing hours of the legislature. If it did there would be some justification for its existence. Its influence extends far beyond a mere selection of measures to be taken up by the Assembly, for by careful managing it can secure the passage of measures during the final rush which would meet with certain defeat in the earlier stages of the session, and refusal to report a measure assures its destruction. Enjoying as much parliamentary power as the English cabinet, the rules committee nevertheless escapes any measure of responsibility before the people. The nullification of its present broad functions by confining them to the preparation of

90 The rules committee was criticized severely for its work in the first session in which it enjoyed its present power. See Annual Record, issued by City Reform Club, New York, 1893.

91 Report of Citizens Union-New York City, 1912, p. 7.

proper rules for the government of the Assembly would be a signal reform. It would require the legislature to take stock all along the line and might prove the first step towards efficient legislative methods in the earlier days of the session.

The existence of a sifting committee is evidence of the breakdown of the other legislative facilities for eliminating worthless measures and bringing worthy measures to final passage. If standing committees would fulfill their duties and the house were to exercise diligence in clearing up its calendar daily, a steering committee might survive for emergencies, but the excuse for a sifting committee would have vanished. Reliance upon a sifting committee decreases the sense of responsibility of other committees in reporting adversely. To counteract this influence the legislature of South Dakota abolished sifting committees entirely and passed resolutions to clear the calendar each day.92

92 Legislative Reference Bureau of South Dakota, in reply to Nebraska Questionnaire of 1913.



Having followed the course of legislation from introduction through consideration by committee, we must now examine the manner and means by which the legislature expresses its collective will upon measures which survive the selective powers exercised by standing committees.


It is a general principle of parliamentary law that a deliberative body cannot act without the presence of a quorum. The constitutions of forty-two states in accordance with common practice prescribe that a majority shall constitute a quorum. Indiana, Texas and Tennessee have placed the number at two-thirds. New York requires three-fifths present when passing appropriation bills, and when levying a tax Vermont places the quorum at two-thirds. These provisions, however, are nullified by the general presumption that a quorum is present if no member raises the question, which often permits the transaction of business by a small minority. Appropriation bills have frequently passed the New York Assembly with less than fifteen members present, although the journal showed that the constitutional majority voted in the affirmative.1 Appropriations have passed the Pennsylvania Senate with but two members present. In fact the practice of acting without a quorum is common to all our legislative bodies. The journals of course do not disclose the absence of a quorum and the courts will not admit evidence to impugn them.2 It is but fair to note, however, that such practice is possible only by unanimous consent, for

1 Report of a Committee of the Citizens' Union, 1913. New York Erening Post, November 22, 1913, states that appropriations aggregating $2,000,000 passed the Assembly with six members in place.

2 See Auditor-General v. Board, 89 Mich. 552. A resolution unseating one member and seating another was not invalid because of no quorum present since the journals did not disclose that enough members had been excused to kill the quorum. The presumption of a quorum was not rebutted by affidavits and protests spread on the journal at a later date.

it is always within the province of any member to raise the question of no quorum. The mere threat to raise the point of order of no quorum is sufficient to postpone further consideration of the specific question under discussion. The business of the house, however, is not seriously interrupted for it at once proceeds to other matters. If opposition to any measure has been registered beforehand no action is usually attempted in the absence of a quorum. For example, the Illinois House customarily devotes Mondays, when a full attendance is hard to get, to measures on the calendar to which no objection has been expressed. It must be clear, therefore, that in view of the ease with which a single member can obstruct the transaction of business in the absence of a quorum, proceedings under such conditions are nothing else than action by unanimous consent.


Before a measure comes up for consideration by the assembled house it is usually printed and placed on the desks of the members. A few southern states alone remain exceptions. Printing before final passage is mandatory under the constitutions of sixteen states; but three of these, Idaho, New York and Virginia, dispense with it in urgent cases. As a matter of fact, bills are printed on introduction in approximately two-thirds of the states, and in the remaining, with the exception of the southern states noted above, upon the favorable report of a committee.

The advantage gained by printing all bills on introduction is of doubtful value. Maine, Michigan and Minnesota are the more important states whose legislatures, unless by special order to the contrary, print only bills reported favorably from committee. The expense of printing is thus reduced, and above all, the files of members are not crowded with measures which will never come up for consideration. The bill in the hands of the members is corrected to include the amendments added by the committee, thus

* In Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina bills are rarely printed. Rule XX of the Pennsylvania General Assembly of 1776 permitted no debate on first reading, and ordered bills to lie on the table for the perusal of members, forbidding any member to take them from the house. In such times the reading of the text of a bill was a real service.

* Index-Digest, State Constitutions, pp. 842, 843. Four states forbid consideration before printing. This has been held only to require printing before the bill is debated. (Massachusetts Insurance Co. v. Trust Co., 20 Colo. 1.)

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