The Legislative Process

The main activity at General Convention is discussing and voting on resolutions, which are sort of like bills trying to become laws. Here’s how the process works.

Let’s say I believe that Havarti is the best of all cheeses. I want the entire church to take a stand on this issue via resolution. The resolution would be something like, “Resolved: Havarti is the best of all cheeses.” There are several ways I might go about getting this resolution to General Convention. As an elected deputy I could write the resolution myself and present it to General Convention. This would be a D resolution (think D for Deputy). If I weren’t an elected deputy, I might talk to my bishop and try to convince her or him to do it. This would be a B resolution (think B for Bishop). If I were on one of the Episcopal Church’s many Commissions, Committees, Agencies, and Boards (known as CCABs), I could ask that our committee (which I assume must be the Standing Committee on Dairy) to put forward the resolution. This would be an A resolution (think A for agencies). Finally, if this were a sentiment my entire diocese shared, we might vote at our Diocesan Convention to send the resolution to General Convention. This would be a C resolution (think C for Convention).

No matter how the resolution gets written and presented, its journey at General Convention starts in committee. Members of General Convention committees are appointed by the President of the House of Deputies (PHoD) and the Presiding Bishop (PB). There are a lot of different committees to be on, ranging from “Social Justice & US Policy” to “Program, Budget, & Finance.” The resolution would go to whichever committee the PB and PHoD thought was appropriate. It’s important to note that the fictional Dairy Committee that meets at General Convention wouldn’t be the same as the fictional Standing Committee on Dairy that meets and works in between conventions. This is a totally separate group – though it is likely that some of the same people will serve on both due to their interest and experience.

Committees must hold public hearings on every single resolution at General Convention. However, a committee may choose to batch similar resolutions into a single public hearing. For example if cheese were a trending topic this year and there were a number of other resolutions related to Havarti, the committee might hold a single hearing to discuss them all. This allows people to speak on the larger issue, as well as debate the merits of individual resolutions. After the public hearing the committee would discuss the issue and vote (all meetings are open to the public, so anyone at Convention can listen in on these discussions). It’s likely that the committee would combine and condense similar resolutions into one, and present only one to the floor of General Convention.

Based on a set of rules too dull to list right now, the resolution will either go to the House of Deputies or the House of Bishops first. The heads of the Dairy Committee would present the resolution, and people would line up at microphones to argue that cheddar is better, that the history of Havarti is not in line with our beliefs, or that we should amend the resolution to say “Resolved: Havarti is the best breakfast cheese.” These debates are governed by Roberts Rules of Order, which are almost too dull to mention at all. However let’s say everyone in the HoD agrees to pass the resolution with the breakfast amendment. Next it would go to the HoB, where the whole argument starts all over again. If the HoB amends it, it goes back to the HoD again. Once a resolution passes both houses with the same language, it is considered an act of General Convention.

What does that mean? We agreed as a group on our favorite cheese to eat in the morning. It might seem silly to go through all that for an opinion, but it will be very helpful years later when the US Government tries to ban Havarti and the Episcopal Church can stand united against the proposed law. And not all resolutions are opinions, some call for specific action to be taken by church members, leaders, or committees. But even with the resolutions that merely take a stance, replace the cheese with slave reparations, global poverty, or same-sex marriage and the whole thing feels at least a little important.


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