Monday, December 6, 2010

A Costly Lesson in Parliamentary Procedure

Parliamentary procedure tends not to be a very hot topic of discussion-- unless your organization follows Robert's Rules of Order, or there’s yet another fistfight on a legislative chamber floor. But without even a single punch thrown, the finer points of parliamentary procedure are currently making headlines in the U.S.

Last week, the Senate passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, hailed as a landmark achievement by a lame-duck Congress. The bill would provide greater authority to the Food & Drug Administration to recall contaminated food, in addition to requiring more frequent inspections of production sources. Unfortunately for the bill’s sponsors, and much to the amusement of Jon Stewart at the tail end of this Daily Show clip, the bill hit a constitutional snag almost immediately after its passage.

As Roll Call reported, any revenue-raising legislative provision is required to originate in the U.S. House of Representatives, not the Senate. (To avoid the issue, the Senate could have located a dead House bill, stripped its unrelated provisions, and attached the food safety bill text, but failed to do so.) Now that the bill is making its way to the House, some members are expected to block the bill’s passage there through a process called “blue slipping.”

The food safety bill sponsors would have done well to review Riddick’s Senate Procedure, the bible of Senate parliamentary practice. Originally researched and written by former Senate Parliamentarian (and Duke alumnus) Dr. Floyd M. Riddick, the title is available in print at the Duke Libraries as well as online through the Government Printing Office’s FDsys site. Its "Revenue" chapter clearly explains the constitutional issues which took place here, and other sections discuss the finer points of subjects like attendance expectations, treaty practices, and even the history of a century-long ban on flowers in the Senate chamber.

Throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Riddick had an enormous influence on Senate procedure as well as on the Goodson Law Library. Dr. Riddick and his wife Marguerite were primary benefactors of the library, and their generosity is readily apparent in the Floyd M. and Marguerite F. Riddick Rare Book and Special Collections Room on Level 3. Displayed in the room are numerous photographs from Dr. Riddick's career, as well as some donated works from his personal collection on legislation and American government (many with personal inscriptions to Dr. Riddick from their authors, including most of the works by former president and Law School alumnus Richard Nixon). The Riddicks also established an endowment to support the library’s collection in the areas of legislative and parliamentary procedure. Although some of these items are kept in the Riddick Room, many are found in the library stacks by call number, with a bookplate identifying the Riddicks’ contribution.

For more information on congressional procedures, try a subject search in the Duke Libraries catalog for "Parliamentary practice—United States". To track the developments in the food safety bill, visit the THOMAS Bill Summary and Status page for S.510, or any of the bill tracking resources listed in this May 2009 post.