General Convention design group previews significantly revised legislative process

By Jim Naughton
Posted May 26, 2022

[House of Deputies News] Legislative committee officers for the 80th General Convention met with the Presiding Officers’ General Convention Design Group on May 25 to discuss a revised legislative process for the convention, which has been shortened from eight days to four due to COVID-19 concerns and now is planned for July 8-11 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Bishop Sean Rowe, parliamentarian of the House of Bishops and co-chair of the design group, announced that if the group finalizes its current recommendations, June 6 would be the deadline for submitting resolutions to be considered at the convention. He urged committee officers to file preliminary legislative reports on the resolutions they have already received with the General Convention Office by June 10 so resolutions, amendments, consolidations and substitutions could be entered into the office’s legislative tracking software. He asked committees to complete their work by June 25.

If the current draft of the design group’s recommendations are endorsed by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the Rev. Gay Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, and other key church bodies, every House of Deputies committee would be required to hold at least one additional “omnibus” hearing before the June 25 deadline, said Bryan Krislock, parliamentarian of that house, and co-chair of the committee. This was necessary, he said, because the house’s rules require a hearing be held on every resolution that is filed. The omnibus hearing is also a final opportunity for individuals to testify on previously considered resolutions.

According to the design group’s current plan, all committees will arrive in Baltimore with their work completed and no legislative committee will need to meet in person at General Convention. The only reasons a meeting would be permitted, Rowe said, is if committees need to consider a floor amendment or if the Resolution Review Committee of the houses identified problems with a resolution that needed to be corrected.

Concerns from committee leaders regarding the compressed, online schedule included whether the tight time frame in which they were now working would allow them to schedule interpreters for their meetings; whether the General Convention Office would accommodate requests for meetings on dates outside a June 13-25 window it has offered for the revised legislative process; whether the office will enter resolutions into its tracking system and return them to committees in time for consideration before June 25, and whether quorums could be gathered for the quickly scheduled meetings required to meet the June 25 deadline.

“If you are having trouble getting time slots, let us know,” Rowe said in response to one question, about scheduling meetings at times that would fit committee members schedules. “I think we can make it work, whatever your committee is going to need.” When the question resurfaced, he said the General Convention Office had assured the design group it would have “a more flexible process,” in scheduling this round of meetings.

Numerous online commenters have expressed concern about whether a convention focused on what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry referred to as “matters essential for the governance and good order of the church” would exclude social justice resolutions. Leaders of The Consultation, a collection of progressive organizations within the church, urged that this not happen in a letter today to Curry, Jennings, members of Executive Council and voting members of the convention.

The design group did not speak directly to this question but sketched out a larger process of prioritization in an email attachment to committee officers that accompanied the Zoom link to the May 25 meeting.

“To begin the process,” Rowe and Krislock wrote, “the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies have considered how to prioritize the most urgent resolutions that have been submitted and have committed to holding special orders of business to consider Resolutions A125-A131, which have been proposed by the Presiding Officers’ Working Group on Truth-Telling, Reckoning, and Healing. The House of Deputies will also hold a special order of business to consider the resolutions submitted by the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church.”

To prioritize the resolutions before each committee, the design group suggested a set of questions.

“We know that for some of you, this is like asking you to pick between your children … and others already know exactly how they will prioritize,” said Michael O. Glass, vice chancellor to the House of Deputies and chair of its Resolution Review Committee. For those in the middle, he said, he hoped the questions would be helpful.

They are:

  • Is this resolution needed for The Episcopal Church to participate actively in God’s mission and function effectively between now and the 81st General Convention?
  • Does this resolution provide an important opportunity to maintain and renew the vitality of the church’s worship?
  • Does this resolution substantively change the Episcopal Church’s witness on a significant issue of the day?
  • Does this resolution call for work that would be difficult to accomplish in the shortened work period between now and the 81st General Convention?
  • Would this resolution require significant floor time for debate that might not be available at the 80th General Convention?
  • Could this resolution be addressed at the 81st General Convention without significantly impeding the church’s ability to respond to God’s mission in the next two years? Would it benefit from more study?

“Once legislative committee officers have determined their priority for the resolutions assigned to them, they are asked to communicate it to their Dispatch of Business liaisons as soon as possible,” the chairs wrote.

In the Zoom meeting, Ryan Kusumoto and Bishop Wendell Gibbs, chairs of their respective Dispatch of Business Committees, urged committee chairs to establish priorities as soon as possible. “We understand these could change,” Kusumoto said. “Keep sending us those updates.”

Deputies and bishops would be “watching time really closely from Day 1,” he said, and the dispatch committees were eager to “prioritize the priorities” once they had them so they could build legislative schedules.

At past General Conventions, about 60% of legislation was approved from the consent calendars of the two houses, and the rest was debated on the floor. Several members of the design team urged generous use of the consent calendar.

Krislock said the House of Deputies would be asked as one of its first orders of legislative business to adopt a special Rule of Order for the convention, including:

  • Validating all hearings previously held online (necessary because current rules prohibit online committee meetings).
  • Changing the requirement to remove a resolution from the consent calendar to a majority vote of the house (which several committee chairs said was too high a threshold, and which group members seemed open to revising).
  • Providing committees, Dispatch of Business and the House the option to refer a resolution in its original form, together with any changes proposed by the committee, directly to the 81st General Convention. (All unconsidered resolutions will be referred automatically.)

Rowe emphasized that committee chairs should not hesitate to determine that a resolution be deferred until the next convention. “There is no shame in this,” he said. “It is no reflection on your leadership. What we are doing now is trying to play the hand we were dealt.”

A rule change also will be required to permit elections of a new president and vice president of the House of Deputies within the context of a four-day convention, Krislock said.

Gibbs said the House of Bishops, which operates under different rules of order, will take such action as necessary to accommodate the process currently in development.

“You will do what you need to do,” Rowe told committee officers as an informal benediction. “You will do the best you can, and that’s okay. We’ll figure this out.”