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California State Senate. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

The Rules Committees of the California Legislature

How the business is conducted in the Legislature

By Chris Micheli, February 10, 2020 6:28 am

The general business affairs of each house of the California Legislature are conducted by a Rules Committee in each house.  However, the roles that these two committees (one in the Assembly and one in the Senate) play are different in several aspects. The Committee on Rules acts as the executive committee of the house. This article briefly reviews those differences.

In addition to running the business of each house, both Rules Committees may consider substantive legislation in the same manner as do the other standing committees in the California Legislature. Because of their importance, the rules of each house provide that the Rules Committee continue in existence during any recess of the Legislature, after final adjournment, and until the convening of the next regular session with the same powers and duties as while the Legislature is in session. No other standing committee is provided with this position.

Another critical function of the Rules Committees is to refer all bills and resolutions to the appropriate standing committees. Some of the other important powers and duties the Rules Committees perform for their respective houses are:

  • To authorize the appointment of employees, set their salaries, and adopt rules and regulations limiting the amount, time, and place of expenses and allowances to be paid to committee employees;
  • To approve all claims for expenses incurred by the house’s committees;
  • To approve all proposed expenditures before the expenses are incurred; and,
  • To assign the subject matter of bills recommended for study to the appropriate committees.

Assembly Committee on Rules

In the Assembly, the Rules Committee consists of a chairperson and a vice chairperson, nine other members, and two alternates, all of whom are appointed by the Speaker.  The main functions of the Assembly Rules Committee are to run the administrative functions of the Assembly and the initial assignment of bills to the appropriate standing committees for consideration. The Rules Committee also provides clerical assistance and offices for the Assembly Members and approves the expenditures of other committees. The main staff person for the Rules Committee is the Chief Administrative Officer of the Assembly.

To assist the committee with its administrative, fiscal and business affairs, the Assembly Rules Committee employs a staff of secretaries and administrators, headed by the Chief Administrative Officer (“CAO”) who is appointed by the Chair of the Rules Committee.

In essence, the Speaker of the Assembly has the same powers as the Senate Rules Committee, i.e., to appoint the chairmen and chairwomen of the standing committees and also to appoint the committee members.  In addition, the Senate Rules Committee confirms gubernatorial appointees, which is a role that the Assembly Rules Committee does not play.

In essence, the Assembly Rules Committee acts as the “executive committee” of the Assembly. Members are prohibited from serving as chairs of any other standing committee. Pursuant to the Assembly Rules, the Committee on Rules has the following powers:

(1) To refer each bill and resolution to a committee, as provided by these rules.

(2) To appoint all employees of the Assembly not otherwise provided for by statute. It has authority to terminate, to discipline, to establish, and to modify the terms and conditions of employment of, or to suspend, with or without pay, any employee of the Assembly.

(3) To make studies and recommendations designed to promote, improve, and expedite the business and procedure of the Assembly and of the committees thereof, and to propose any amendments to the Rules deemed necessary to accomplish these purposes.

(4) To adopt additional policies or requirements regarding the use of cameras and other recording equipment at committee hearings or Assembly floor sessions.

(5) To contract with other agencies, public or private, as it deems necessary for the rendition and affording of those services, facilities, studies, and reports to the committee that will best assist it to carry out the purposes for which it is created.

(6) To cooperate with and secure the cooperation of county, city, city and county, and other local law enforcement agencies in investigating any matter within the scope of these rules and to direct the sheriff of any county to serve subpoenas, orders, and other process issued by the committee.

(7) To report its findings and recommendations to the Legislature and to the people from time to time and at any time.

(8) To do any and all other things necessary or convenient to enable it fully and adequately to exercise its powers, perform its duties, and accomplish the objects and purposes of these rules.

(9) To make available to the Assembly, or to any Assembly or joint committee, or to any Member of the Assembly assistance in connection with the duties of the committee or other legislative matters as the personnel under direction of the committee or its other facilities permit.

(10) To make available to and furnish to the Assembly, and to Assembly investigating committees created at this session and to each of the members thereof, clerical, secretarial, and stenographic help as may be reasonably necessary for the Assembly to carry out its work, and for the committees and each of the members thereof, to make and carry on the studies and investigations required by or of them by the resolutions creating the committees, and for these purposes to employ additional stenographic and secretarial assistants as may be necessary, assign, reassign, and discharge these assistants and prescribe amounts, times, and methods of payment of their compensation. The committee shall allocate annually an amount for the operation of each investigating committee, which shall constitute the annual budget of the committee.

Senate Committee on Rules

In the Senate, the President pro Tempore serves as the Chairperson of the Senate Rules Committee, while the other four Members are elected by the Senate in a resolution adopted at the commencement of the new session (any change in membership during the Session requires a new resolution to be adopted).  In essence, the Speaker of the Assembly has the same powers as the Senate Rules Committee, i.e., to appoint the chairmen and chairwomen of the standing committees and also to appoint the committee members.

There is a vacancy on the Rules Committee in the event a member ceases to be a Member of the Senate or resigns from the Committee on Rules. Any vacancy occurring during a summer, interim study, or final recess, except in the case of the President pro Tempore, is filled by the remaining members of the Committee on Rules. A vacancy occurring at any other time is filled by election by the Senate.

The Senate Committee on Rules appoints all other committees of the Senate and designates a chair and vice chair of each committee. In making committee appointments, the Committee on Rules gives consideration to seniority, preference, and experience. However, in making committee appointments, the Committee on Rules must, as far as practicable, give equal representation to all parts of the state.

According to the Senate Rules, the Committee on Rules is charged with the general responsibility for the administrative functioning of the Senate. The committee has general charge of the books, documents, and other papers and property of the Senate and sees that the same are properly kept, cared for, filed, or otherwise disposed of in accordance with applicable law and rules.

The committee also has the duties of making studies and recommendations designed to promote, improve, and expedite the business and procedure of the Senate and its committees, including investigating committees consisting wholly or in part of Members of the Senate and of proposing any amendments to the rules deemed necessary to accomplish those purposes.

The committee makes available and furnishes to the Members of the Senate, as well as the Senate committees, personnel resources as may be reasonably necessary for the Members and the committees to carry out their duties.

The Committee on Rules constitutes the Committee on Introduction of Bills and has charge of the engrossment and enrollment of bills, the contingent expenses of the Senate, and legislative printing, except insofar as these functions are delegated to the Secretary of the Senate.

Executive communication of nominations sent by the Governor, or any other entity with the authority to make appointments, to the Senate for confirmation are referred to the Committee on Rules, unless otherwise ordered by the Senate, without debate.

The Committee on Rules, at each regular session, appoints a Member of the Senate to serve on the Judicial Council and has the authority during any joint recess to fill any vacancy in that position that occurs during the recess. When a report of a joint legislative committee is delivered to the Senate Desk, the Committee on Rules refers it to a standing committee for review and appropriate action.

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