House Republicans voted Jan. 28 to limit the amount of time lawmakers can speak in debate, a move Democrats say is an attempt to silence the minority party.
The debate over brevity – and more – took about two hours as Democrats, led by Assistant Minority Leader Randy Friese, resisted.
While the rule changes do affect all 60 members, a point several Republican members made, Friese said the overall effect on the parties is not the same.
“[Republican] values are reflected in the legislation that we pass. Your bills are heard in committee. Your bills are heard on the floor. Your bills make it to the governor’s desk,” he said.
He said Democrats’ time to speak on the floor is a tool, one that allows their values to be represented to their colleagues and constituents alike.
“And when you one day are in the minority, you might understand a little better,” he said.
The House adopted several rule changes, including various limitations on the amount of time afforded to each member to speak on the floor in certain situations. Members of the Senate have no such limits.
For example, vote explanations were previously limited to five minutes but have now been reduced to three minutes. Likewise, bill sponsors used to have 10 minutes to speak on their bills during floor debates. That time, too, has been reduced to three minutes, as has time to protest and to make personal remarks. Those personal remarks that usually come at the start of action on the floor were also relegated to the conclusion of business unless someone is making an introduction of guests lasting no more than one minute.
Additionally, time for each member’s questions is now limited to one minute, and members being questioned will have three minutes to respond.
Friese said a time limit has not been imposed on House members since 1947, when members were so unsure of their power to do so, they had to seek guidance from the attorney general. They were cleared to move forward, and Friese said the limits before being amended had served a purpose since they were put in place.
But as Democrats now make up about 48 percent of the House yet “very infrequently” have their views expressed in legislation, he urged Republicans to think twice about further limiting their time to speak.
“Yes, we can do this, but is this a step we wish to take? … Silencing the voices of your colleagues who represent 48 percent of this state,” he said.
Republicans like House Majority Leader Warren Petersen of Gilbert were not convinced the rule changes went that far.
He said there had been “no drought for time” until the last few years as a few voices dominated the conversation.
“We need to see diversity in our speech. We need to be considerate of others’ time,” he said, adding that “being disrespectful, angry or shrill” should not give priority to any one member.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, also compared the House today to a House of the past, saying the body is now “super verbose.”
Alluding to a frequent GOP criticism of the Democrats, he said the first person to speak on a topic is presenting all new information. But comments become excessive and “sabotage” debate after several hours of the same comments, he said.
“It doesn’t take hours to debate an issue,” he said.
The House did take hours in this case, though.
The House adopted several rule changes unanimously, including one granting House Speaker Rusty Bowers a vote on his own rulings from the dias. But members found another point apart from time limitations to disagree over.
The House has eliminated the requirement that a strike everything amendment, or striker, be germane to the underlying bill. That rule only existed in the House, and was only implemented under former House Speaker J.D. Mesnard.
Friese said the addition of that requirement under Mesnard held the rule to its intended purpose and that losing the restriction “will expose us to a lot of chaos.”
But his Republican colleagues did not share that concern. The rule change passed 31-28 along party lines.
Members were held to the new rules the very next day. Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, had to be reminded of the time limit on introductions as he announced guests Tuesday morning.