[House of Deputies News] Legislative Committee Officers for the 80and General Convention met with the General Convention Presidents’ Design Group on May 25 to discuss a revised legislative process for the convention, which was shortened from eight days to four due to COVID-19 concerns and is now scheduled for July 8-11 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Bishop Sean Rowe, parliamentarian for the House of Bishops and co-chair of the design group, announced that if the group finalizes its current recommendations, June 6 would be the deadline for submitting resolutions for consideration at the convention. He urged committee officials to file draft legislative reports on resolutions they have already received with the General Convention Office by June 10 so that resolutions, amendments, consolidations and substitutions can be entered into the office’s legislative tracking software. He asked the commissions to complete their work by June 25.
If the current draft of the design group’s recommendations are approved by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the Reverend Gay Jennings, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and other key church bodies, each committee of the House of Representatives would be required to hold at least one more “omnibus” hearing before the June 25 deadline, said Bryan Krislock, a parliamentarian in that house and co-chair of the committee. This was necessary, he said, because house rules require a hearing to be held on every resolution filed. The omnibus hearing is also a final opportunity for individuals to testify on resolutions already being considered.
Under the design group’s current plan, all committees will arrive in Baltimore with their work completed and no legislative committees will need to meet in person at General Convention. The only reasons a meeting would be allowed, Rowe said, are if the committees need to consider a floor amendment or if the House Resolutions Review Committee identified issues with a resolution that needed to be corrected.
Committee leaders’ concerns about the compressed online schedule included whether the tight deadline they were now working under would allow them to schedule interpreters for their meetings; whether the General Convention Office would accept requests for meetings on dates outside of the June 13-25 window it has proposed for the revised legislative process; whether the office will enter resolutions into its tracking system and return them to committees in time for consideration by June 25, and whether quorums could be achieved for the quickly scheduled meetings needed to meet the June 25 deadline.
“If you’re having trouble getting slots, let us know,” Rowe said in response to a question about scheduling meetings at times that would suit committee members’ schedules. “I think we can make it work, whatever your committee will need.” When the matter surfaced, he said the General Convention Office had assured the design group that it would have “a more flexible process” to schedule this series of meetings.
Many online commentators have expressed concern that a convention focused on what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called “matters essential to the governance and good order of the church” would exclude social justice resolutions. Leaders of The Consultation, a collection of progressive organizations within the church, urged that not happen in a letter today to Curry, Jennings, Executive Council members and voting members of the agreement.
The design group did not directly address this issue, but sketched out a broader prioritization process in an email attachment to committee officers that accompanied the Zoom link to the May 25 meeting.
“To begin the process,” Rowe and Krislock wrote, “the Presiding Bishop and the Speaker of the House of Representatives considered how to prioritize the most urgent resolutions that have been submitted and pledged to hold orders Special Working Groups to consider Resolutions A125- A131, which have been proposed by the Presidents Working Group on Truth, Calculation and Healing The Chamber of Deputies will also hold a special agenda to consider resolutions submitted by the House Committee on the State of the Church.
To prioritize the resolutions before each committee, the design group suggested a series of questions.
“We know that for some of you this is like asking you to choose between your children…and others already know exactly how they’re going to prioritize,” said Michael O. Glass, Vice Chancellor of the House of Representatives. and chair of its consideration of the resolution. Committee. For those in the middle, he said, he hoped the questions would be helpful.
- Is this resolution necessary for the Episcopal Church to actively participate in God’s mission and function effectively by General Convention 81?
- Does this resolution offer an important opportunity to maintain and renew the vitality of the worship of the Church?
- Does this resolution substantially change the testimony of The Episcopal Church on an important issue of the day?
- Does this resolution call for work that would be difficult to accomplish in the shortened work period until General Convention 81?
- Would this resolution require significant speaking time for debate that may not be available at General Convention 80?
- Could this resolution be addressed at the 81st General Convention without significantly impeding the Church’s ability to respond to God’s mission over the next two years? Would it benefit from further study?
“Once Legislative Committee Officers have determined their priority for the resolutions assigned to them, they are requested to communicate this to their Business Dispatch Liaison Officers as soon as possible,” the Chairs wrote.
During the Zoom meeting, Ryan Kusumoto and Bishop Wendell Gibbs, chairs of their respective business allocation committees, urged committee chairs to prioritize as soon as possible. “We understand that could change,” Kusumoto said. “Keep sending us these updates.”
MPs and bishops would “watch the weather very closely from day one,” he said, and dispatch committees were eager to “prioritize priorities” once they had them so they could establish legislative timetables.
At past general conventions, about 60% of the legislation was approved from the consent schedules of both houses, and the rest was debated in the hall. Several members of the design team encouraged the generous use of the consent calendar.
Krislock said the House of Representatives would be asked, as part of one of its first orders of legislative business, to adopt a special rule of procedure for the convention, including:
- Validate all hearings previously held online (required as current rules prohibit online committee meetings).
- Change the requirement to remove a resolution from the consent timeline to a majority vote of the house (which several committee chairs said was too high a threshold and group members seemed open to revision).
- Provide committees, business allocation, and the House with the ability to return a resolution in its original form, along with any changes proposed by the committee, directly to the 81st General Convention. (Any failed resolutions will be returned automatically.)
Rowe stressed that committee chairs should not hesitate to determine that a resolution be deferred to the next convention. “There’s no shame in that,” he said. “It’s not a reflection on your leadership. What we’re doing now is trying to play the hand that’s been dealt to us.
A rule change will also be needed to allow for the election of a new Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives under a four-day convention, Krislock said.
Gibbs said the House of Bishops, which operates under different rules of order, will take the necessary steps to adapt to the process now being developed.
“You will do what you have to do,” Rowe told the committee officers as an informal benediction. “You’ll do your best, and that’s okay. We will solve this problem.