Legislative Term of the Day: Suspension of the Rules
Today we will briefly review a term often alarming to people when they hear it for the first time: Suspension of the rules.
When people hear that a bill has been passed under "suspension" or the rules were "suspended," they think there was either chaos, foul play, or both. In reality, it is the complete opposite. In the U.S. Congress, bills passed under suspension are usually noncontroversial or bipartisan. The U.S. Congress votes on bills under a suspension of the rules Monday-Wednesday and again during the last six days of a congressional session. Debates on these bills are held for 20 minutes, and the bill must pass with yea votes from two-thirds of the Members present and voting.
The local rules are similar to the federal rules but differ slightly in each Council. For example, in the Prince Geroge's County Council, their rules of procedures state:
19.1. Suspension of Rules.
The suspension of any rule shall require the concurrence of two-thirds of the Members of the Council. This motion is debatable but does not permit discussion of the main question. It can neither be reconsidered, laid on the table, nor postponed indefinitely, and, while it is pending, no motion can be made except to adjourn. A separate suspension of the rules shall be necessary for each proposition.
19.2. Repeal or Amendment of Rules.
No motion, order, or resolution to repeal or amend a rule of the Council shall be considered or acted upon unless it shall have been submitted in writing to the Council at least one week prior thereto, together with the written text of any proposed amendment. The repeal or amendment of any rule of the Council shall require the concurrence of two-thirds of the Members of Council.
However, In the Montgomery County Council, their rules of procedures state:
Rule 2. Suspension and amendment of the Rules
Suspension of Rules. The Rules of Procedure must not be amended or repealed while a suspension of the Rules is in effect. These Rules or Robert's Rules of Order are suspended in whole or in part if:
two-thirds of the Councilmembers in office vote to suspend a specific Rule or group of Rules;
for each matter considered during suspension, the Rules receive a separate suspension; and
suspension of the Rules does not violate an applicable law.
Rules not subject to suspension. This Rule, Rule 1(d), and Rule 10(e) must not be suspended.
Amendment of these Rules. The County Council may amend these Rules by resolution. A resolution to amend these Rules must be introduced to the Council in writing at least one week before the resolution is considered for adoption. Adoption of the resolution requires a vote of two-thirds of the Councilmembers in office, except as provided in subsection (d). The resolution must contain the full text of the proposed amendments.
Subsequent Council. The Rules in effect when the term of the previous Council ended continue in effect until amended, suspended or repealed. When a new Council takes office, it may amend or repeal these Rules by a majority vote in the first 90 days after taking office.
Note how each Council requires a two-thirds majority for a bill to pass under suspension, have a policy in place for amendments, and place restrictions on other motions that can be considered. The two rules differ in the level of detail provided but have similar effects.