Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Germaneness Principle

Law writers must always be mindful of germaneness. Germaneness is a principle that applies to an amendment and its relationship to a bill or a pending amendment. An amendment that is not germane is subject to being ruled out of order.

On one hand, the theory behind germaneness is that a legislative body should only consider one subject matter at a time to the end that business may be conducted in an orderly and expeditious manner. On the other hand, germaneness requirements protect the nature of a piece of legislation as well as the sponsor of a bill from amendments that might dilute effectiveness or lessen the chance of passage.

Germaneness and "relevancy" are not the same concept. For example, an amendment may be politically related to a portion of a bill, but may not be germane to the bill. Consider the possibilities.

Suffice it to say that germaneness is both a legal doctrine and a political reality. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that:
• Forty state constitutions contain a provision that requires a bill to address or contain a single subject. In Mississippi, germaneness is implied, but a single subject requirement is not specifically stated in the constitution. No specific single subject provision is set forth by the constitutions in Arkansas, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.
• Over three-fourths of the state legislative chambers reported that they have rules on germaneness of amendments or motions.

NCSL's Sample Checklist to Test Germaneness

Does the amendment deal with a different topic or subject?

Does the amendment unreasonably or unduly expand the subject of the bill?

Would the amendment introduce an independent question?

Is the amendment relevant, appropriate, and in a natural and logical sequence to the subject matter of the original proposal?

Would the amendment change the purpose, scope or object of the original bill?

Would the amendment change one type of motion into another type?

Would the amendment change a private (or local) bill into a general bill?

Would the amendment require a change in the bill title?

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U.S. Capitol