By Rev. Anthony Tang, First Reserve Clergy Delegate and pastor of Desert Mission UMC in the Desert Southwest Conference
In this 2019 Called Special Session of General Conference, all petitions will be reviewed and voted upon in one legislative committee before moving onto the plenary session, which will be the same people. What and why is this?
A plenary session is defined as being the gathering of all members of a group, in this case, that’s all the voting delegates of the General Conference.
Especially with a large group of people meeting to do legislative work, it is often not feasible with time constraints for the plenary session to address every individual piece of legislation. Therefore, plenary sessions will often delegate an initial review of petitions to a sub-set of the body, which we United Methodists call “Legislative Committees.” The Commission on the General Conference determines the number of legislative committees, which was 12 in 2016. All petitions are normally divided between the different legislative committees, debated, sometimes amended, and voted upon. Those that are approved overwhelmingly (in a regular General Conference) are moved onto the consent calendar for batch/bulk voting by the plenary. Those that are approved, but not overwhelmingly, are brought to the plenary for further debate and vote. Those that are voted down are eliminated there in legislative committee.
If the entire body can address all petitions, then legislative committees are not needed. However, in 2016, a new rule was passed, which is now ¶507.11: “All petitions that have been submitted to the General Conference shall receive a vote of a legislative committee.” The original intention of this rule was to prevent legislative committees from eliminating petitions by claiming that they had run out of time to address them. The unintended consequence is that the rule forces General Conference to have a legislative committee, even if it is not needed.
Therefore, in this 2019 Called Special Session, the Committee on the General Conference has determined that there will be one (1) legislative committee. This afternoon of February 24, the presiding bishop adjourned the plenary session and two seconds later announced the opening of the legislative committee. All petitions before this Special Session will be debated, perhaps amended, and voted upon. There will be no consent calendar this weekend. As soon as the legislative committee has completed its work, then the body will return to its plenary session and will debate, perhaps amend, and vote upon all petitions that were approved in the legislative committee. Those petitions that are approved by both legislative committee and plenary session will be added to the Book of Discipline (pending any other approvals required by other rules).