Hearing held on proposed changes to House of Deputies’ legislative rules as some concerns linger

By David Paulsen
Posted May 1, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] An online hearing was held April 29 on proposed changes to the House of Deputies’ Rules of Order. The proposals are intended to streamline the process for considering legislation at General Convention, though some deputies have raised concerns that the changes would go too far in limiting deputies’ opportunity for deliberation and debate on issues facing the church.

Previous listening sessions were held in September and November, at which time some deputies warned the church was emphasizing expediency over human engagement. Since receiving that and other feedback, the church leaders who drafted the proposals submitted a revised plan for consideration by the 81st General Convention’s House of Deputies Rules of Order Committee.

Steve Pankey

The Rev. Steve Pankey of the Diocese of Kentucky, chair of the House of Deputies Rules of Order Committee, leads an online hearing April 30 on proposed changes to the houses rules.

Six deputies testified at the April 29 hearing on Zoom, far fewer than at the fall listening sessions. They mostly spoke against one or more of the nine proposed resolutions, with some suggesting the changes should be shelved until a potential churchwide task force can examine such matters with a broader focus. A separate resolution proposing such a task force is under consideration by the bishops’ and deputies’ Joint Rules of Order Committee.

“I would suggest that we’re doing this backwards, that we should start off by looking at the goals and our values around our synodical process,” Sarah Lawton, a deputy from the Diocese of California, said in her testimony. She referenced the resolution, D022, that would create a task force to study General Convention’s legislative process, including emergency changes made in 2022 in response to pandemic restrictions.

The most significant changes to the 80th General Convention in July 2022 were its shortened length – a four-day, in-person meeting instead of the typical eight – and requirements that its two dozen legislative committees hold their hearings online and complete nearly all their work in advance. The 80th General Convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland.

Then last year, House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris appointed a Special Committee on Rules of Order to consider proposals for taking the lessons learned in Baltimore and applying them to future meetings of General Convention.

The Rules of Order are approved by the House of Deputies at the start of every General Convention. They structure all aspects of the house’s business, from how and when legislative committees receive and deliberate over resolutions to whether individual resolutions can be discussed on the floor of the house before a final vote. The House of Bishops follows its own Rules of Order, though the two houses typically coordinate their schedules to ensure legislation advances smoothly.

One of the most controversial proposals has been a resolution filing deadline of 90 days before the start of General Convention. Current rules allow the filing of resolutions until the house’s second legislative day. The change, if approved, would not take full effect until the 82nd General Convention in 2027.

The special committee that drafted the proposal thought the earlier deadline would be the best way to enable appropriate consideration of the hundreds of resolutions that are filed at each General Convention. Even so, an exception to the deadline could be made through a petition of a least 20 deputies. (A bishop may propose a resolution in the House of Bishops with the endorsement of two other bishops.)

Nathan Brown, a deputy from the Diocese of Washington, testified that he thought a 45-day deadline would be more reasonable, and he noted that some of the Blue Book reports that contain interim bodies’ proposed resolutions were released closer than 90 days to the start of the 81st General Convention, which will convene June 23-28 meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.

Others who testified suggested that the 20-deputy threshold was too high for late submissions. The proposals also would require a petition by 20 deputies before the House of Deputies could consider moving a resolution off what is known as the consent calendar so it can receive full floor debate. Current rules say only three deputies are needed to move a resolution off the consent calendar.

“Twenty deputies is an unreachable number for most,” said Laura Russell, a deputy from the Diocese of Newark. It “silences some voices, especially the new voices, many of which are younger.”

Each diocese in the church is represented at General Convention by deputations of up to four clergy deputies and up to four lay deputies, so to reach 20 would require a coalition of at least three dioceses’ deputies.

Bryan Krislock, the House of Deputies parliamentarian and chair of the committee that drafted the proposed rule changes, said 20 deputies was chosen because it represented about 2% of the House of Deputies. ” We didn’t want to have it too high and we didn’t want to have it too low,” he said.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.