A Shorthand Guide to the Senate Committee on Rules

A measure that has been favorably reported back to the Senate by a standing committee is first sent to the Senate Rules Committee. The Rules Committee determines which bills advance to the 2nd and 3rd Reading Calendar for consideration by the full Senate and possible final passage. The Rules Committee has the ability to prevent floor action on a measure by never giving it a place on the calendar. Determining which measures advance to the floor calendar is its preeminent duty.

Senate Rules Committee meetings are open to the public, however to prevent undue influence upon Committee members while they are making these important selections, no member may be approached by the public once seated at the Rules table. At the direction of the Chair, the Sergeant-At-Arms is responsible for maintaining order during Rules Committee meetings.

Currently, there are 17 members on the Senate Rules Committee: the Lt. Governor, 11 majority members and 5 minority caucus members. By rule, Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib chairs the committee and is a voting member. During his absence or when he is serving as acting-Governor, Senator Keiser, President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Vice Chair of Rules will chair the committee. Secretary of the Senate Brad Hendrickson and Deputy Secretary Sarah Bannister staff the Rules Committee and are assisted by both Senate Counsels. The Rules Committee selects the bills for floor action and prepares the floor calendar for the day. There are two calendars (lists) in Senate Rules, a White Sheet and a Green Sheet, these contain all measures awaiting action in Rules.

At the beginning of each meeting, the Majority Leader will announce how many “pulls,” or requests to advance a bill each member will be allowed from the Green Sheet to the floor calendar and then from White Sheet to the Green Sheet. Usually, a bill only moves one step during a Rules meeting.

The White Sheet lists measures referred to the Rules Committee immediately after being passed out of a standing committee. This is more-or-less a review calendar. When the Rules Committee considers bills on the White Sheet, they are pulled to the Green Sheet without debate or a vote. Each member, in order in which they are seated, announces the bill of their choice from the White Sheet that they are pulling. Members may opt to NOT pull a bill on their turn, but they lose that pull. This process continues until all members’ pulls are used. Once pulled to the Green Sheet, the bills are eligible to be pulled to the floor calendar at the next Rules meeting.

The Green Sheet is a consideration calendar made up of bills pulled by Rules members from the White Sheet and is the list of bills now eligible to go directly to the floor. The process is similar to pulls from the White Sheet, but bills pulled from the Green Sheet are debated and voted on in Rules prior to being placed on the floor calendar. Members move to place a particular bill on the calendar, give a short synopsis of the bill and its merits. At this point, other Rules members may ask clarifying questions or debate the merits of the bill, after which the Chair will call for a vote.

Most bills advance on a voice vote, but divisions are often called and a show of hands may decide a bill’s fate. Any member may request an oral roll call on any bill before it goes to the floor. If an oral roll call is requested, the Deputy Secretary calls the name of each member of the Rules Committee who votes “aye” or “nay” on the bill in question, and announces the total vote. The Chair then announces the fate of the bill. If a member attempts to pull a bill from the Green Sheet and it fails, that bill does not stay on the Green Sheet but returns to the White Sheet and begins the Rules Committee process anew. The member that requested the failed bill does not get another choice; it counts as one of their “pulls.”

The previously described two-step process of being pulled from the White Sheet to the Green Sheet and then from the Green Sheet to the floor calendar is the traditional method of advancing a measure through the Rules Committee. However, a “package pull,” or a list of bills may be moved to the floor calendar together on a single vote, is an alternative process. Packages may be moved to quickly develop a calendar, before a cutoff or the end of session, or when the Senate is going to act on a single broad topic addressed by several bills.

A Rules Meeting Report is circulated after each Rules meeting which details which members pulled which measures. A Flash Calendar is also circulated listing the measures approved by the Rules committee to be placed on the 2nd & 3rd Reading (floor) Calendar. These measures are usually “pulled” from the Green Sheet, but occasionally they are moved directly from the White Sheet to the floor calendar. The measures on the Flash Calendar are added to any remaining items on the floor calendar and a new or supplemental 2nd & 3rd Reading Calendar is created.

After certain cut-off dates, as a house-keeping measure, the Senate Rules Committee sometimes places bills no longer eligible for consideration in the “X-File.” This removes them from Rules calendars and the daily status sheet keeping those lists from becoming too long and unwieldy. They usually remain in the X-File until the end of the biennium.

The Rules Committee determines the order in which bills are placed on the floor calendar. Usually this is in the order in which they are pulled out of the Rules Committee. Formally known as the 2nd and 3rd Reading Calendar, the Senate floor calendar is traditionally printed on yellow paper and commonly referred to as the yellow calendar.

Senate Gubernatorial Appointments (SGAs) move through the Rules Committee in the same manner as bills. These appointments are usually placed on a separate Confirmation Calendar which is also printed on yellow paper, but, occasionally, single GAs May appear on the regular yellow calendar together with other measures.

Occasionally, the Committee will create a consent calendar composed of bills that have unanimous or near-unanimous support (with little or no opposition). These bills can come from either the White or Green Sheets and are placed on a separate Consent Calendar for the floor. The consent calendar is traditionally pink (the pink calendar) in color.