Civics 101: What Is A Legislative Rules Committee With Sen. Andy Billig

Apr 7, 2021

Washington Lt. Governor Denny Heck presides over a virtual Senate Rules Committee meeting.
Credit TVW screenshot

The Washington and Idaho legislatures are in the homestretches of their respective sessions. Lawmakers are working to finalize budgets and put the finishing touches on a variety of bills.

In Washington, the Rules Committees [chaired in the Senate by Lt. Gov. Denny Heck, above] have an important role in determining which bills move on and which ones die. Today we get a Civics 101 lesson from Sen. Andy Billig [D-Spokane], a Rules Committee member.  

Andy Billig: “I counted once and found there were 37 places that a bill could die along the legislative process, but really no place where it can get a direct route to becoming a law. Our founders really had this idea that it should be hard to pass a law. Laws are momentous and significant and they should get lots of checks and double-checks and triple-checks before they pass. One of those checks, one of those filters that a bill has to go through is the Rules Committee. It is the only committee on which the lieutenant governor serves. The lieutenant governor, who is the president of the Senate, serves as the chair and a voting member of the Rules Committee.”

Denny Heck: “Rules Committee to order. Senator Billig.”

Andy Billig: “Thank you, Mr. President. Today we’re going to do a consent package and then a small regular second reading package and then one pull per member.”

Andy Billig: “It’s the final check before it goes to the Senate floor for a vote. The Rules Committee helps us to prioritize which bills will get voted on because there often isn’t enough time to consider every bill. So a bill has to be pulled, as we call it, pulled from the Rules Committee by a Rules Committee member and then it has to be voted on and have the support of the committee.”

Denny Heck: “The question before the committee is the motion by Senator Rivers to advance Substitute House Bill 1193 from the white sheet to the second reading calendar. Please unmute. All those in favor signify by saying ‘aye.’ Opposed ‘nay.’ The ‘ayes’ have it, the motion is adopted.”

Andy Billig: “There’s a whole ritual to the Rules Committee about how you go in order and each member makes a motion to pull a bill.”

Denny Heck: “Senator Short.”

Shelly Short: “Thank you, Mr. President. I move to advance House Bill 1198 from the white sheet to the second reading calendar.”

Andy Billig: “And then they make a comment about the bill and then there’s a vote.”

Denny Heck: “Meeting of the Senate Rules Committee will come to order. But before we begin I’d like to make just a couple of brief comments. The first of which is we should mark this occasion as the first time in the history of our state in which a rules committee of either chamber is being televised.”

Andy Billig: “In the Senate there is a physical place called the Senate Rules Room and there are no cameras in the Rules Committee Room. All of the other committee rooms and the Senate floor all have cameras connected to TVW, which is televised and streamed online. It just had never happened for whatever reason, cost or logistics. Starting this year, really spurred by the hybrid nature of our legislature this year and due to the pandemic, we decided to televise it. The Rules Committee really heats up right before the, and during, the long days of floor action because the Rules Committee has to supply those bills to the Senate floor so we can do those long days of voting before the house of origin cut off or the opposite house of origin cut off.”

That’s Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig from Spokane, talking about the function of the Rules Committee. Also in this Civics 101 story, you heard from Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck and Sen. Shelly Short [R-Addy]. This feature was produced by Doug Nadvornick.