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Replacing a speaker in mid-session? Read the rules carefully

by Jon Davis ~ June/July 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
When Ohio’s speaker of the House resigned on April 12, his departure kicked off a weeks-long legislative and political logjam: No legislation could advance to the Senate without the speaker’s signature, but until members voted in his replacement (which proved difficult due to differences among members on whom that should be), there was no speaker.
While Ohio House Rule 12 states that the speaker pro tempore “shall perform the duties of the Speaker as presiding officer during the Speaker’s absence,” in this case it was deemed that the speaker wasn’t absent because the office itself was vacant. The logjam broke on June 6 when Rep. Ryan Smith was elected as the new speaker.
Could that situation happen in other Midwestern states when such a vacancy occurs? The answer would depend on language in the legislative rules, and/or an interpretation of them.
The Michigan House doesn’t spell out what happens if a speaker vacates the office, but Clerk Gary Randall says a new election would be held immediately and that this vote would supersede all other business — a step extrapolated from existing House rules during a previous legislative session, when it seemed that the speaker at the time might leave office in mid-session.
The speaker pro tempore does not automatically take over because “we have never viewed that position as the establishment of a chain of movement,” he adds.
In other states, the rules set a fairly clear path on succession of the speaker (who is typically the presiding officer of a state’s lower chamber).
The Minnesota House devotes an entire article (Rule 7.02) to the “Successor in Office of Speaker.” If a vacancy occurs, the chair of the House Committee on Rules and Legislative Administration “has the powers and must discharge the duties of the office as necessary” until a new speaker is elected by the House, or until a speaker-designate is selected. The rule also says representatives must elect a speaker when the House is next called to order. If the Legislature is not in session, that committee must meet and select a speaker-designate within 30 days after the office of speaker becomes vacant.
In other states, including Iowa and Kansas, the speaker pro tempore takes over until a new speaker is chosen. Kansas Rule 3304(a) specifies that when a vacancy occurs in the speakership and the Legislature won’t reconvene for at least 60 days “after the occurrence of the vacancy,” then the House shall meet within 30 days and elect a member to fill the vacancy. The rule also specifies that in that scenario, the speaker pro tempore shall call for a meeting of the House within 10 days of the vacancy, to take place from 10 days to 20 days after the date of that call.
In Wisconsin, Assembly Rule 3, sub (2), specifies that if the speaker is “separated by death, resignation, or removal from office, the speaker pro tempore may exercise all of the powers and shall carry out all of the duties of the speaker until a speaker is elected.”
Similarly, Iowa Rule 6 states that if a vacancy occurs in the office of speaker, the speaker pro tempore shall assume the duties and responsibilities of the speaker “until such time as the house shall elect a new speaker.” In the Illinois House and Nebraska Unicameral Legislature, the rules of those respective chambers call for a new speaker to be chosen immediately.


Capital Closeup is an ongoing series of articles focusing on institutional issues in state governments and legislatures.