Deputies’ committee backs revised Rules of Order changes for 81st General Convention

By David Paulsen
Posted May 30, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] The House of Deputies Rules of Order Committee on May 30 voted to recommend a series of proposals intended to streamline legislative business at General Convention, The Episcopal Church’s primary governing body. The proposals will be taken up by the full house on June 23, the first legislative day of the 81st General Convention in Louisville, Kentucky.

The committee, meeting with its corresponding bishops’ committee, also heard testimony on a separate proposal that would create a task force to conduct a broader study of the legislative process.

The proposed changes that would take effect for the June 23-28 convention could establish new precedents for future meetings of General Convention, with an emphasis on completing most legislative committee business online in advance of the in-person gatherings. Legislative committees began hearings and deliberation in earnest in April.

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.

The deputies’ proposals generated vocal criticism from several groups of deputies when they were unveiled in August 2023 and again at listening sessions held that fall. Some of the sharpest criticism was directed at a proposed resolution-filing deadline of 90 days before General Convention, as well as tighter processes for granting exemptions to the filing deadline and for debating individual resolutions on the house floor.

The revised plan recommended by the deputies’ Rules of Order Committee would set a 60-day deadline for resolutions at future conventions. 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 committee also voted to allow 15 deputies to petition for an exception to the deadline, a lower threshold than the 20 deputies initially proposed. It also backed a 15-deputy threshold for moving a resolution to floor debate by taking it off what is known as the consent calendar, where batches of resolutions are approved without debate.

There was no intention to undercut a thorough consideration of resolutions, said Bryan Krislock, who serves as house parliamentarian and chaired the special committee that drafted the proposals at the request of House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris. “The driving challenge we have in the house is, how do we preserve our democratic process and inclusion of multiple resolutions, multiple points of view, while at the same time allowing for in depth conversation on issues?”

Another primary goal was to learn from the emergency changes that were needed to hold a pandemic-shortened 80th General Convention in 2022. That was the first time that committees held hearings and deliberated online – a development that succeeded in expanding access to the meetings but also drew concerns over missed opportunities for face-to-face interaction.

Ten deputies testified May 30 in favor of creating a task force to study such issues, as called for by Resolution D022.

The changes made in 2022 in response to the continued spread of COVID-19 “were specifically not intended to serve as precedent, and yet they are now proposed as a blueprint for the future,” Scott Haight, a deputy from the Diocese of West Tennessee, said in his testimony on the resolution, which he proposed. “D022 proposes a way to really take a deep look and make presentations to the next General Convention on how to move forward.”

Nathan Brown, a deputy from the Diocese of Washington, noted that while he generally agreed with the rule changes proposed for the 81st General Convention, he also supports the creation of a task force because of its broader scope, which would include input from both the House of Deputies and House of Bishops.

“This goes to a larger question of what should General Convention look like going forward?” Brown said.

General Convention divides its authority between the two houses. Bishops and deputies are assigned to parallel legislative committees around two dozen topic areas, and though distinct, the bishops’ and deputies’ committees typically meet together for hearings and deliberation. The Rules of Order committee are scheduled to discuss and vote on D022 at an in-person meeting June 22 in Louisville.

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


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