After what appeared to be a smoothing over in a Republican rift Monday, there was a brief pause in moving forward on a normally obscure step in the legislative process that's been the center of debate in opening days of the Legislature.
Because of a procedural flub, a set of draft rules that governs how the House operates was stuck in committee Tuesday. The House temporarily adopted the rules Monday, but they expire Friday.
Some in the House GOP want to lower the number of votes it takes to revive a dead bill. It was 60 last session; a deal brokered Monday set it at 58 for now — the number of Republicans in the House. An earlier attempt from some Republicans, which upset others in the party, aimed for 51 votes. Democrats, who have been in the minority for several sessions, have long supported the 51-vote threshold.
The House Rules Committee is expected to take action Wednesday at 9 a.m.
Despite the lack of official action Tuesday, the committee mustered some discussion of the controversial 58-vote blast requirement.
Rep. Tom Woods, D-Bozeman, questioned the justification for the 58-vote figure. Democrats this week criticized picking that number as a political move. In the case of a motion to bring a bill out of committee, Woods’ party would need 16 Republicans to cross the aisle.
“We have the right as a Legislature to determine our rules,” Woods said. “So what principle are we basing 58 on?”
Rep. Frank Garner, a Republican from Kalispell, responded that the 58-vote requirement received just as much consideration as those of other rules.
“It’s a number that we’ve determined is necessary as much as 60 is necessary or 66 is necessary for change of the rules,” Garner said. “These are numbers that legislators have determined are the target for which they want to set the standard, the bar, for making those decisions. That’s my opinion, is that’s a number we’ve determined as much as we’ve determined these other numbers.”
Woods interjected, saying that his party had not received its due input on the committee.
“When we say ‘we,’ that includes the members of the minority party and I don’t remember having any input on setting this number,” Woods said. “And this is my chance, this is our chance as a minority party to say we think it should be 51. Because that’s what Mason ["Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure"] says, that’s what democracy is that a majority makes a decision for a group.”