236. Methods of Communication.— Heretofore we have discussed the law of procedure which governs assemblies acting for themselves. We have next to consider them when acting in conjunction with coordinate branches and forming legislatures. In such a case each body is independent except so far as it chooses to bind itself by the adoption of joint rules. Since, however, it is necessary for both bodies to unite in a legislative act, and some communication is necessary between them, there have grown up various methods of communication, of which four are in common use, viz.:
237. Messages.— A message is the most common method of communication, and may relate to bills, amendments, parliamentary privileges, conferences, or any subject requiring the action of both bodies. Messages are delivered by the clerk or secretary of the body sending them, and all business in the House receiving the message is suspended and interrupted while the message is presented by the clerk, who first addresses the Chair and is recognized. If the House is in Committee of the Whole it rises informally, and some member takes the chair. Upon receipt of the message the business interrupted is resumed.
238. Joint Committees.— Joint committees may at any time be appointed by both bodies, which committees may be standing committees and have charge of certain kinds of business. Some State Legislatures transact all their committee business by the aid of joint standing committees. Each House selects its own members, and the number from each House is agreed upon by both.
239. Select Committees.— These are committees appointed by each House, which communicate with each other, but do not act jointly. They are always selected for special purpose, and are not usual in this country.
240. Conferences.— A conference is one of the methods of communication between two assemblies which together constitute the legislative department of a government. Whenever a disagreement as to amendments between the two Houses has reached such a phase that it seems likely to be final, the House which has the papers usually asks a conference upon the disagreeing votes of the two Houses and announces the names of the committee of conference. This action is communicated to the other House by a message. The other House then agrees to the request for a conference and appoints its committee. These committees are so composed as to represent as far as possible those in favor and those opposed on the disputed questions in both Houses. If, for example, three are appointed by each House, two should represent the majority in each House and one the minority.
241. Object of a Conference.— The object of a conference is to obtain such a knowledge by each House of the sentiment and opinions of the other House, and the reasons therefor, as may enable them to adjust their differences. As it would be inconvenient and unsuitable for both bodies to unite, they act by committees. The old method of conference was very cumbersome. The committee of the House asking the conference laid before the committee of the other House a statement of reasons, in writing, for disagreeing, usually adopted previously by the body itself. This statement, with the papers, was presented to the other committee, and by them laid before the House they represented, and if they proved satisfactory a message of agreement was sent; but if the reasons did not satisfy, then the body which had been appealed to asked for a second conference, and presented its reasons, in writing, for non-compliance. There the matter ended, unless a free conference was asked by the House originally moving. While a free conference was being had neither House remained in session.
242. A Free Conference.— A free conference is one where the conferees meet and present, not only the reasons of each House, but such arguments, and reasons, and persuasions as seem suitable to each member of the committee. Instead of being confined to reasons adopted by either of the Houses, each member may present his own. A conference may therefore be a free conference though each House may have instructed its members and limited them to the terms of agreement.
This method of conference is the only one known to our parliamentary law, at least it is the only one now in practice. When two legislative bodies in this country have a conference, it is a free conference. With us the conference committee can sit during the session of both Houses.
The method described in the preceding paragraph was formerly in use in England, but in regard to bills, conferences are now disused, an agreement being brought about between the two Houses by means of messages.
243. Action of Conference Committees.— The object of a conference being the adjustment of differences between two bodies, and the conference consisting of independent committees, its report to be a valid one must be agreed to by a majority of the committee from each House. The committee of the House which makes the request for conference, being in possession of the papers, passes the papers to the other committee, and in case of an agreement the report is first made to the House assenting to the request for a conference. In case of a disagreement, the House first asking for a conference retains the papers and asks for another conference. It often happens that several conferences are had before an agreement is reached.
The conference may agree on some things and disagree on others. In that case, the Houses may ratify the agreements and again confer as to the rest. No one but the conferees are entitled to be present at a conference.
244. Report of Conference Committees.— The report of a conference committee must be in writing and signed by those agreeing thereto, and must have the signatures of a majority of the representatives of each House. The report should be first made and acted upon by the House which was invited to the conference. It is then passed upon by the other House, if agreed to. If not agreed to by either House, the only method of renewing the question is by a further conference or by one House receding and concurring with the other.
245. Method of Obtaining Conference.— Whenever the two Houses have reached the point where they disagree, the House which has the papers may reject the amendments of the other House and ask a conference, or, if there be urgency, one House may amend the bill, and without waiting for the rejection of these amendments may ask a conference. Of course the adoption of the amendments obviates the necessity of a conference and prevents any reply to the request. Such is the practice in Congress. The formal method, which perhaps any House has a right to insist on, is illustrated in this way: A bill passed by one House is amended in the other and returned. The originating House disagrees to the amendment, and notifies the amending House by a message, returning the papers. Thereupon the amending body either recedes and concurs or insists and asks for a conference. The conference may report agreement with amendments, but may not change any item already agreed to by both Houses. The report of a conference committee can not be amended. It must be accepted or rejected as it stands. If the body acting on the conference report finds itself unable to agree to it, and desires to agree with a modification, the method of procedure is to reject the report, ask for another conference, and then instruct the committee to ask the conferees of the other body to agree to the proposed amendment to the report.
246. Procedure in the Assembly.— A conference report has precedence over any other business, because, being the procedure by which a final agreement is reached between the two Houses, the assent of both, which is essential to legislate on it, must be further advanced than any subject under debate. The courtesy, also, between the two bodies requires that precedence should be given to joint business. Accordingly, in the United States House the conference report is privileged, even against a motion to adjourn, and may be made at any time except while the journal is being read, the roll called, or the House dividing. This is but a declaration of general parliamentary law, except the privilege given as against a motion to adjourn. In the House, also, there must accompany the conference report a detailed statement sufficiently explicit to inform the House what effect the amendments or propositions will have upon the measures to which they relate.
247. Motions Relating to Agreement and Disagreement Between the Two Houses.— These motions are five in number, and have priority in the following order:
248. To Concur.— A motion to concur is the proper motion to make where one House has sent a bill to the other which has been returned with an amendment. So where one House has sent a bill to the other which has been amended and returned, and the originating House desires to agree but wishes the amendment in some way changed, the proper motion is to concur with an amendment, which amendment having been agreed to by the other House the bill would then be passed.
249. To Non-concur.— This motion is proper where the House desires unconditionally to reject the amendment of the other House. Even when this motion is pending a motion to concur would be in order, and also a motion to concur with an amendment.
250. Remarks on the Preceding Motions.— Each of these two motions, to concur and to non-concur, is the reverse of the other, and hence when one is rejected the other is considered adopted. The motion to concur is always put first, if demanded, even if the other is moved first, because it is the affirmative and is in the line of agreement with the other body. If the motion to concur is negatived, it is announced that the House non-concurs. If the motion to non-concur is negatived, the announcement is that the House concurs.
When the motion to concur with amendments is lost, the question of concurrence or non-concurrence pure and simple is still open.
251. To Recede.— This motion is proper where the House has previously non-concurred, and upon the question again coming up, desires to recede from that position.
For example, when a bill has passed one House and been returned with an amendment, which is non-concurred in, and the amending House sends it back, insisting on the amendment, and the originating House on reflection concludes to adopt the amendment, the proper course is to recede.
252. To Insist.— If, however, the originating House in the case above described desires to continue its rejection of the amendment, a motion to insist is the proper motion.
The motion to insist may be coupled with a motion to ask a conference, and always leaves open the question of future action between the two bodies.
253. To Adhere.— If, however, either House desires to notify the other that its determination is fixed to make or reject the proposed amendment, even if it causes the loss of the bill, a motion to adhere is the proper motion. After both Houses have adopted the motion to adhere, the bill is lost.
Nevertheless, if one House asks a committee of conference, even after the other House has voted to adhere it is usual to grant the request.
254. Remarks on the Preceding Motions.— The motions to concur and to non-concur being the opposite and sole alternative each of the other, a negative vote on the one is the same as an affirmative vote on the other. Such, however, is not the case with the three motions last described. After refusing to recede, or to insist, or to adhere, there is still a choice between the other two, and hence a negative on one is not an affirmative vote on either of the other two.