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In case anyone was unsure about the unusual nature of this Ohio House speaker situation, consider that the House clerk recently cited the Hughes’ Parliamentary Guide from 1931-32 as justification for recent actions.
But Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, questions whether the vote for a new speaker could be invalidated if the House moves forward with a decision on Tuesday, a newly created legislative session day.
Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton — the speaker pro tempore who has been the acting House speaker since former Speaker Cliff Rosenberger abruptly resigned in April amid an FBI inquiry — called the new House session for Tuesday specifically to vote on a new speaker.
Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, is likely to get the 50 votes needed to win the job through the end of the year. Minority Democrats also are likely to put up their own candidate in a largely symbolic gesture.
The House hasn’t had to deal with a speaker vacancy in modern times, and House Republicans, divided by internal fighting and personality conflicts, have struggled to pick a new leader.
Leland, an attorney, has argued that under House rules the House could continue only with previously scheduled session dates under Schuring’s leadership. The House canceled its session last Wednesday because Republicans argued the House cannot address legislation without a speaker. GOP members couldn’t agree on a new leader after four hours of closed-door debate.
But House Clerk Brad Young told Leland that while House Rule 16 grants the speaker pro tempore all the speaker’s privileges and authority when the speaker is absent; “in this case, the speaker is not absent, but rather there is a vacancy in the position of speaker.”
“Therefore, until a session exists where a quorum (at least 50 members) is present, the speaker pro tempore has the ability to act as speaker, but he or she does not ascend or succeed to the office of speaker …”
Young cited Section 84 of Hughes’ American Parliamentary Guide, which applies to the House in certain situations. It says if a speaker resigns, “a new election takes place, in the usual manner. There is no provision in the constitution, statutes or rules that the speaker pro (tempore) shall under the foregoing conditions, succeed to the office of speaker.”
But, Leland says, there is a problem. The House speaker vote scheduled for Tuesday is not being held on a normal session day. The Tuesday session was recently called by Schuring specifically to take the leadership vote, one day before the House’s regularly scheduled Wednesday session.
While multiple Ohio House rules refer to the “speaker or presiding officer” — the presiding officer in this case being Schuring — Leland points out that Rule 1, which deals specifically with the scheduling of session dates, does not.
Rule 1 says only that the speaker may revise or alter the schedule as necessary, and as Young pointed out, the House doesn’t have a speaker. So, Leland argues, Schuring doesn’t have the authority to call a new session. Thus for the leadership vote to be legitimate, it must be held on Wednesday, or on another session date that was already set before Rosenberger’s departure.
“This thing is messed up enough,” Leland said. “We don’t need to throw a question mark on the whole process.”
Leland said he thinks someone, either Democrats or an anti-Smith Republican, will challenge the vote if it is held Tuesday. Reportedly, some House Republicans were more comfortable if the speaker vote was held on a day separate from dealing with legislation.