What does it mean to be “Germane”, and why does it matter?

Often times we will use the term ‘strike-all amendment’, which essentially means the underlining bill would be gutted and replaced with the language contained in the amendment. Clients will often ask us, “how can they do that?” The answer is always that the amendment was ruled germane. Once an amendment (or JFS language in the committee process) is considered germane, there is no need for an additional public hearing.  For an item to be considered germane there must be a connection (nexus) to the underlying issue.  This rule is established early in the legislative process when lawmakers define the governing ‘joint session rules’, which are adopted on the first day of session.

The session rules do not define the term ‘germane’, but the Connecticut General Assembly’s website does provide a Rules and Precedents document to provide a bit more context. That document states to be germane the concept must be “relevant, appropriate, and in a natural and logical sequence to the subject matter of the original proposal" (Mason 402(2)).

Once an amendment is filed or JFS language is proposed, legislators may call into question on the germane nature of that proposal. There are examples of when an amendment’s germaneness has come into question, which can help provide a bit of guidance.

In 1963, there was a question about an amendment on a redistricting proposal. The Senate President ruled that although the bill dealt with a House redistricting proposal and the amendment dealt with Senate redistricting, the amendment was ruled germane because ultimately they both dealt with redistricting. (Alfano, 1963)

Another example was a bill that was dealing with state building contracts. The amendment in question required employers requesting assistance from the state on collection of student loans to provide information to aid in collecting the loan (Killian, 1978). This example demonstrated a bit more flexibility in what was considered germane.

To be germane the precedent does not require the concept deal with the same statutory reference. In 1985, the president pro tempore ruled that although an amendment and the bill it was filed on dealt with different statutory sections the amendment was still germane (Belden, June 4, 1985).

In 1983 the amendment to develop an advisory board for the MDC was ruled germane with a bill that set up a task force to study the feasibility of establishing an industrial park in Brainard Airport. The president pro tempore ruled it was germane because MDC was given a seat on the task force in the original bill. Therefore, because the entity of MDC was mentioned in the bill, an amendment to regulate MDC was also permissible.

There are also examples of when an amendment dealing with the same topic was ruled not germane. The question of germaneness was raised in 1984, when a bill restricted the size of containers in which alcoholic beverages other than wine could be sold. An amendment was called that restricted the hours during which liquor could be sold. The president pro tempore ruled that the fact that both the bill and the amendment concerned alcohol was not enough of a connection (Murphy, April 18, 1984).

A bill in 1979 allowed certain towns to abate property taxes on property damaged in the recent tornado and to be reimbursed by the state, and certain other towns to defer payment of taxes on such property, without interest, for one year. An amendment was called that removed all state taxes on companies engaged in the development of alternative energy systems. The president ruled the amendment not germane because the bill was specifically requested in the call of the special session and to expand the bill to other kinds of tax abatement was ruled inappropriate (O'Neill, November 19, 1979).

Most rulings try to follow the model in Mason, but it clearly is not an exact science. It is rare for the germaneness of an amendment to be called into question, but as long as it deals with the same topics as the underlying bill, the question will typically be overruled and the committee or chamber may proceed with the amendment. There have been circumstances where the Chamber will ask for a vote on the ruling of germaneness, but it is rare to have the ruling overturned. Challenging the rule of the chair is usually voted up or down according to party lines.  For sure, when it comes to the concept of germaness, the majority matters and leadership has a lot of discretion.

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