The Senate follows rules from a different century. I am not sure if they serve the current one. The argument that “this is how we have always done things” has never sat well with me. Still, these rules serve an elegant purpose. We must make decisions as a body. And remain civil.
I studied these rules and have read them at least three times. I still have to look things up. I have been told you have to live them to know their meaning. I am sure it will be years for me.
My first week in the chamber I recognized the phrase “I ask unanimous consent . . . ” This is used in different circumstances to speed things along. It allows us to jump from one order of business to a distant one with such a simple request. The chair replies, “Are there objections? Hearing none we will advance to . . .”
In that first week I wondered what would happen if I objected. I imagined a lot of angry stares. And things grinding to a halt.
The Senate rules specify that all legislation must be read three times before a debate and vote. Thus there is the First Reading Calendar, then the Second Reading Calendar and finally the Third Reading Calendar before a debate and a vote can occur.
It is common for a Senator to stand and ask at the beginning of the First Reading Calendar, “For unanimous consent that all bills be read by number and title only and let the record show they have been read in full.”
The President will respond with “Hearing no objections, so ordered.” The secretary will then read the numbers and titles and the bills will be moved forward to the next calendar. So things move. (You can watch this any time from 10:00-12:00 a.m., Mountain Time, here. I will warn you, it is pretty boring. Not to me, but to most folks.)
But the final reading (in the 13th order of business) is a bit different. The bills are listed in order and the secretary starts reading the bill. She has a sweet voice but keeps it very monotone, I think a respectful practice. After a sentence or two the sponsoring senator will stand and be recognized by the chair. The sponsor asks “unanimous consent that further reading of bill #____ be dispensed with and let the record show it has been read section by section and placed before the Senate for final consideration.”
It was here we objected when unanimous consent was asked to dispose of reading SB 1108 and SB1110, the bills changing Idaho education. We had planned this for a couple days, and had told our plan to our Republican allies, and the Republican leadership. When SB 1108 and SB1110 came to the floor on third reading the bills would be read in their entirety. They needed a full hearing.
I do not know how the opposition felt about requiring the bills be read. I felt good about it. After the reading (it took two hours for SB 1108) we debated for another 2 hours. It was respectful and pointed. When the roll call vote was called we lost 15-20. Keep in mind that 8 republicans voted with us 7 democrats. And if we had walked out there still would have been a quorum. They would not have missed us. We stalled but we couldn’t stop it. It will take more public outcry to redirect this ship. And even then, I’m afraid at least 1108 (the one crippling the union) will pass. (They both passed the House this week)
Three more votes and it would have gone the other way. I am going to work to find those three votes.
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