As with many other fields of endeavor, being a legislator requires getting to know some slang. Herewith is a brief primer of some Georgia General Assembly terms and phrases:
Dropped – as in, “I dropped the bill.” This means formally submitting or introducing a piece of legislation, and stems from “dropped in the hopper.”
Perfecting the Bill – refers to finding and fixing flaws in a bill, whether this is fixing wording errors, correcting provisions for previously unseen situations, or adding provisions to better flesh out the overall concept of a bill. The phrase also implies the legislative process itself, in which many minds are brought to bear on a bill, potentially spotting any flaws.
Well – the podium and location facing all the members’ desks on the floor the House chamber. This is where members stand to present bills, make certain kinds of motions and speak for various and sundry other purposes.
Procedural Vote – refers to votes taken for purposes other than passage of a bill. These can be votes to table or amend a measure, and also to regulate what is going on in the chamber. Sometimes procedural votes can be tricky or intricate, in which cases the members of the party caucuses are advised and requested to follow the votes of their caucus leaders.
Privileged Resolution – members can offer non-binding resolutions honoring people or things. This is most often done as a courtesy to folks from members’ own districts.
Pretty Copy – these are fancy printed copies of privileged resolutions, suitable for framing, that you give to the individuals or family of those that you honored with the resolution.
Structured/Engrossed – this is a status given to a bill when it is heard on the House or Senate floor (structured for the House, engrossed for the Senate). It controls whether the bill can be amended from the floor or not. If a bill is fully structured or engrossed, it can only be voted on, yes or no. Lesser statuses can allow amendments, either pre-filed, or directly from the floor.
Vote Your District – this is both a matter of personal honor and a somewhat oblique reference to the fact that no legislator can be bound to vote in a certain fashion, and is ultimately responsible only to the people of his or her district. For example, “House leadership would really like you to support this measure, but of course you must vote your district.”
The Second Floor Is Engaged – this phrase tells you that a particular matter is of interest to the governor, whose office is on the second floor of the Capitol building.
The Gentleman/Gentlelady Knows That of Which He/She Speaks – sometimes during floor debate about a bill, members standing at their desks will seek to make a point, pro or con, in an attempt to influence other members’ votes. These statements must be posed as questions to the member in the Well, by preceding with, “Is it not true that …”. While the member in the Well can respond by agreeing or disagreeing, he or she also has the option of using this phrase to render the statement a rhetorical question. In other words, a very courteous, formal way of agreeing or disagreeing without actually saying so.
Vehicle – a bill to which another measure has been attached via amendment. This tends to happen late in the legislative session, when members try to find an alternative means of passing bills they have not been able to get across the finish line on their own.
Appeal the Ruling of the Chair – in the House, the speaker will sometimes make rulings on whether an action can be taken or not. A member disgruntled by the ruling has the right to appeal it, via a vote of the whole chamber. Described in these simple terms, this may sound like no big deal. However, nothing is further from the truth. In a legislature, decorum and respect among members is at a premium, and so appealing a ruling is like delivering a public slap in the face. Consequences can follow, often of a sort that will significantly impact your ability to serve your district effectively. That’s why you don’t see this happen very often, and usually only see one or two members vote to overturn the ruling. In short, while doing this can get you a lot of publicity, and make a handful of supporters very happy, it is basically very shortsighted – unless the issue is truly a “hill to die on.” Otherwise, this practice is the hallmark of a legislator who is far more interested in grandstanding than in actually getting anything done.
Next week, we’ll go to the heart of the matter – looking at “why” we legislate.
Doug Holt represents District 112 in the Georgia House of Representatives. He is not seeking re-election this year.