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August 07, 2006


Anne Dunn

In the Louisiana House, we have a now ancient designation of "Morning Committees", "Afternoon Committees", and "Weekly Committees." Committees are organized into three groups for scheduling purposes (to avoid conflicts for members they may serve on only one committee in each group). Many years ago, the schedule provided for committees in one group to meet on particular mornings, those in another group on particular afternoons, and the remainder weekly (usually Friday). Though the schedule was changed many years ago to provide for committes in each of the groups to meet on certain days rather than in the morning or afternoon, the rules still designate the committees as "Morning Committees", "Afternoon Committees", and "Weekly Committees". New members (some who weren't born when the old schedule was used) quickly adapt to the designations and seem as happy to retain the old tradition as the longest serving members.

Reed Holwegner

Substitute bills in South Dakota are still called a "hoghouse." The term is enshrined in the Legislature's joint rules. It is common to hear legislators say, "We 'hogged' the bill in committee." If a hoghouse amendment is applied to the bill of a political ally, the bill as originally introduced is more likely referred to as a "vehicle." However, if the bill of a political adversary is used, it's often times called a "carcass" bill.

Karl Kurtz

Tradition dies hard in Louisiana, Anne! And the distinction between a "vehicle" and a "carcass" in South Dakota is great, Reed. Thanks for the contributions.

If we get enough new contributions of legislative localisms, maybe we'll write a new State Legislatures magazine article about them. Many of the ones that I included in my original posting were first written about by University of Oklahoma political scientist Cindy Simon Rosenthal in a State Legislatures magazine article, "Legislative Lingo," in February 1988.

Claire Jesse Clift

Cinderella Hour--NV. Since our second 120-day, constitutionally mandated legislative session in 2001, we in Nevada have the "Cinderella Hour." Most people would determine the last hour of any day to be 12 midnight, but not so in Nevada. Our Constitution states session ends at 12 midnight Pacific Standard Time. Since we convene our biennial sessions on the first Monday in February, the 120th day is sometime in June. In most of the U.S., June is well into Daylight Savings Time which Nevada recognizes each April by springing forward one hour. Therefore, according to our Constitution (and, ultimately, a decision by our Supreme Court), the 120th calendar day actually ends at 1:00 a.m. on the 121st calendar day since that hour was lost in April with the clock change, and we need every minute of that hour!


NC usage: catfish amendment - an amendment that is offered by an opponent of a bill in the guise of support for a bill -- it might weaken the bill so much that if adopted the bill's supporters might abandon it

Karl Kurtz

Good one, Gerry. But why is it called a "catfish amendment?"

Gerry Cohen

NC usage - "Royall amendment", named after State Senator Kenneth Royall and offered dozens of times by him beginning in the earyl 1970s continuing to the present day (still named that despite his retirement 20 years ago) "This act does not obligate the General Assembly approproate funds to implement it.", held to make a bill avoid being referred to the appropriations committee and avoid being held up by a rule requiring all bills that expend money to wait for floor action until after the biennial state budget was enacted. The bills, of course, usually had a substantial budget impact :)

Gerry Cohen

Karl -- good question. It's not named after famous NC native MLB pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter, so I suppose it's a fishing euphemism (ripping the guts out of the bill). I heard the phrase when I began hanging around the NC General Assembly during grad school in 1971 but never heard anyone who knew the derivation.

Gerry Cohen

I found a similar Georgia usage for "catfish amendment"
"Jones called the changes a “catfish amendment” because it gutted his resolution."

Karl Kurtz

Gerry's searching out of references to catfish amendments in other states caused me to google both "Reeps" and "clincher resolution," about which I said I was uncertain if they were unique usages. I didn't find anything relevant on "clincher resolution," and the only relevant references to "Reeps" were California-based.

Alfred Speer

Many states (Mason's Manual, section 163(1)) (and US House, See Cushings Leg Assemblies, section 1284) utilize the clincher motion as you described; we do in LA. However, no member here ever refers to the motion as you relate: "I move the usual clincher." In fact, the Speaker merely rattles off the double motion "to reconsider and to lay that motion on the table" at the conclusion of announcing the vote. I would venture that many of our members do not know they could object to the clincher and thus retard the bill’s progress.

Patricia Mau-Shimizu


Hawaiian word meaning "doubtful, undecided, dubious, uncertain".

Hawaii House Rule 52.8
Any member who refuses (including the "kanalua" response) three times to vote when ordered to do so will be considered to have voted aye, and the Clerk shall record an aye vote for the member.

Ann-Marie Sweeney

Christmas tree a bill - Pennsylvania. This may not be unique to PA, but Christmas treeing a bill is to decorate it with many amendments, assuring its failure in the next chamber, or having it stripped down by the Scrooge conference committee. Some bills you can never love enough.

Lorie Johnson

We have clincher votes in the Arkansas House. After the main vote on a bill, the member will raise his or her hand in a fist, and the Speaker will say "So-and-So moves a clincher. All in favor say 'Aye'..."

They mispronounce Sine Die around here, too.

Karl Kurtz

An additional "Louisiana-ism" came by way of e-mail communications from senate staffer Gary Schaeffer and house clerk Butch Speer.

X bills – whenever a legislator gives a completed draft of a bill to the staff with instructions for the bill to be introduced “as is,” an X is added to the reference (HLS or SRS) number, i.e., SLS X 06-0001. This informs all staff that the bill was not drafted nor checked according to internal control processes.

Debbie Haskins

Here is a "legislative localism" from Colorado - "Entzing a bill" - named after Rep. Lewis Entz. Our drafting manual explains this as follows: "During the 1998 legislative session, language for a new type of effective date section was created to delay the effective date for the new program during the next fiscal year. Legislators referred to using this new language as "Entzing a bill" because it was first used in a bill for Rep. Lewis Entz. "Entzing a bill" involves adding an effective date section that delays the effective date of a bill for another year and provides that the act will not take effect unless the implementing agency obtains the necessary funds through a long bill appropriation or other appropriation for the next fiscal year. In essence, "Entzing" is a creative financing strategy that can improve the odds of passage for a bill with a fiscal impact. The drafter can suggest "Entzing" to a bill sponsor but should probably discourage the practice because it does not create a guaranteed funding source for such a bill and may not improve the bills chances as much as the sponsor might expect."

Jeannine Wood

In the Idaho Senate, we have a term "buck slip." Buck slips may be used for committee action on the introduction of or recommendations on bills, but only in instances where a committee meeting is impracticable (like at the end of the session and the committees have been "shut down." If one committee member objects to the use of a buck slip, it may not be used in that instance. All committee members who are not absent from the Senate on that day, shall be required to sign their names indicating their aye or nay vote on the matter being considered.

The Idaho Senate uses "pairing" when a senator is going to be absent for good cause. It is basically a form of absentee voting. When a senator knows he is going to be gone when a crucial vote will be taken, he can arrange to "pair" with another senator. He must specifically state the bill or any proposition upon which the pair has been arranged, it must be in writing and signed by those agreeing to pair. It must be in possession of the Secretary prior to any vote upon the proposition. Pairs are allowed on a vote to override or sustain the Governor's veto and a Senator's pair at the desk constitutees his being technically present and voting.

Two Senators may pair upon a roll call vote to be determined by a simple majority. One senator must vote yes, and the other must vote no - so the votes offset each other and do not change the outcome of the vote. On any question requiring a two-thirds majority for adoption by roll call, a pair shall require three Senators, two affirmative and one negative.

The votes of pairs shall be announced by the Secretary after completion of the roll call and before the result is announced. The pairs shall be recorded in the total vote and published in the Journal as part of the proceedings.

Pairs shall be broken by the presence of all agreeing to be paired at any debate or roll call upon a bill or proposition specified in the agreement and shall not thereafter be valid, absent a new agreement. A Senator agreeing to pair with an absent Senator may remain on the floor of the Senate while the question for which he has agreed to pair is under debate or being voted upon, but he may not participate in debate, reply to inquiries, or vote.

Substitute senator - I have been told that Idaho is the only state who allows for a substitute senator. The Senate policy is that someone must be gone for at least 3 days before he can request a substitute. Idaho Code 59-917 allows this to happen. A substitute senator has all the rights and privileges of the senator he is replacing, although he would not be a committee chairman if he were sitting in for a senator who is a chairman. He gets the senator's salary for the days he is a substitute, but the per diem allowance must be paid to the substitute by the regular senator.
The Idaho Senate has a procedure that is similar to "hoghousing." They strip the body of the bill and replace it with an entirely new bill. Our term is called "radiator-capping."

Karl Kurtz

Thanks for those contributions, Jeanine. The "buck slip" is an interesting use of that term for a government routing form. See "The Phrase Finder" ( for an interesting discussion of the term.

"Pairing" is a term that is used in Congress, too, in much the same way as you describe in Idaho. Our legislative rules expert, Brenda Erickson, tells me that a total of 21 state legislative chambers provide for pairing.

On "substitute senators" we know of some states that have provisions for replacing legislators on military leave, but your provision seems much more open-ended than that and is probably unique.

Regarding "radiator-capping," do you know what the origin is of that phrase?

Melissa Bybee-Fields

Just a little more on the clincher motion in Kentucky. It is used as a habit in the House when after the passage the member stands up to "move the clincher". But it has become a game with many of the Representatives as to who can actually say the complete motion correctly. When a new legislator says the motion correctly, they all applaud. This started with one of our veteran legislators Rep. Gross Lindsay who would never say "move the clincher", he would always say the complete motion.

Dana Hunter

Has anyone seen It is a new site that tracks legislation in all 50 states, allows you create bill sheets for clients and has information on everything from bill sponsors to who voted on a bill. Pretty cool.

lacey in ak

In the Alaska State House, the concurrence file is called the "limbo file." Interestingly enough, it is not called such in the State Senate.

Karl Kurtz

Thanks for the contribution, lacey in AK. Do you have any idea why it's called the limbo file? Is it because the bill is "in limbo" until the other chamber concurs in it? Or is it about doing a limbo dance?

Karl Kurtz

See a May 2008 posting, "Delawarisms," at for some delightful Delaware legislative lingo.

Erik Arneson

Pennsylvania pronounces it "SIGH-nee dye" as well. The post-election session in even-numbered years is known as a sine die session because it is usually a week or two long, and then the Senate and the House recess "sine die" until the next session begins in January of an odd-numbered year.

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