The Thoroughly Modern Mason's Manual

By Shapiro, Larry G. J.; Maley, Edwin J., Jr. | State Legislatures, July 1992 | Go to article overview
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The Thoroughly Modern Mason's Manual

Shapiro, Larry G. J., Maley, Edwin J., Jr., State Legislatures

The latest edition of the legislator's bible on procedures reflects today's pressures and practices.

What can a legislator do if he makes a motion at a committee meeting and no one seconds it? Turn to section 62 of the 1989 edition of Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure and find that seconds to motions are not required. Unlike a member of a private association, a legislator represents a constituency and is entitled to present a matter for consideration of the body without having the support of another legislator.

Since 1935, lawmakers have been turning to Mason's to solve procedural problems not addressed by their legislature's rules. Today Mason's is used in 63 of the 99 state legislative chambers.

Paul Mason, a parliamentarian and attorney who worked with the California Legislature, compiled the first edition of the manual in 1935, drawing on other precedure manuals and court decisions that affect the rules. He revised his book six times, the last time in 1979.

Mason died in 1985, after turning over the copyright to Mason's Manual to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A commission composed of 16 members of the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries from 14 states continue his work. Starting in the mid-'80s they took a fresh look at the manual and published a new edition in 1989.

How does the 1989 Mason's differ from the 1979 edition? Many of the changes reflect the challenges that legislatures have faced in recent years--an increasing workload, the shifting of responsibility for many federal programs to the states, the declines of party control and pressure for open government. Just as the unique nature of legislatures shaped the rule on seconds to motions, so have the recent forces affecting state legislatures shaped changes in procedure.

For State Legislatures Only

Mason's early editions included rules for both state and local legislative bodies. In 1953, he added administrative bodies and private associations. This has often been confusing because the various bodies have different functions and frequently different rules.

Mason's is now clearly for the use of state legislatures only. The new edition deleted almost all provisions applicable to administrative and local legislative bodies and private associations. Several provisions were retained but adapted for legislatures. For example, a rule that "a vacancy on a city council when a member moves out of the city does not exist until ascertained and declared by the council" now applies instead to a legislator moving out of his district.

Further changes incorporated in the 1989 edition document the evolving relationship between the legislature and the executive branch of state government. Provisions are added that describe legislative authority to delegate rule-making power to administrative agencies, to review agency regulations and to oversee the operations of the executive branch. Moreover, the new manual recognizes that many legislatures have become more independent of the governor. The 1979 edition contained language that an interim committee could be created by statute, which would require the governor's signature, but only by concurrent resolution, which generally would not. The new edition provides that interim committees may be created by either method. Similarly, the 1979 edition referred to the governo's "exclusive authority" to call special sessions of the legislature; the new edition indicates that some constitutions or statutes include provisions for legislatures to call themselves into session.

Role of Legislative Committees

In many states, legislative committees are used to handle the legislatures' expanded responsibilities and increased workload. The 1989 edition adds language clarifying the authority of committees to conduct public hearings, gather information and work on proposed legislation during the interim between sessions.

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