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Why Understanding the Term “Germane” Can Save You From Heartaches and Headaches

Only 40 state constitutions require a bill to be “germane” – that is, require a bill to address or contain a single subject. Learn why this is important.

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If you’re tracking state legislation about real estate licensing, you can ignore bills about traffic safety, right?

You could if lawmakers were always rationale and lawmaking were a rationale process. But that’s not our reality.

That’s because only 40 state constitutions require a bill to be “germane” – that is, require a bill to address or contain only a single subject.

Aside from the fact that trackers have to keep tabs on legislation about sometimes seemingly irrelevant topics that might impact an industry or membership, legislative trackers also have to be on the lookout for riders or amendments to bills that introduce completely unrelated laws.

In Mississippi, for example, germaneness is implied, but a single-subject requirement is not specifically stated in the constitution. For that matter, no specific single subject provision is set forth by the respective constitutions in Arkansas, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island or Vermont, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The word “germane” usually is defined as “in close relationship, appropriate, relative or pertinent to.”

There is no single test for determining when a proposed amendment or motion is germane. When called upon to make a ruling on germaneness, the NCSL suggests that the presiding officer:

  • Look to the state constitution, chamber rules, other chamber precedents and adopted parliamentary manual for requirements on germaneness
  • Develop a personal checklist of test ideas, and/or
  • Use good judgment to make a fair determination.

What does this mean for policy and legislative trackers? It means in states without “germane” mandates, you need to keep tabs on bills that also contain amendments or riders – even if on the surface the original bill isn’t relevant to your issue or industry.

Which can be a pretty tall order.

What’s a “Rider” and why should I care?

A rider is an additional provision added to a bill or other measure under the consideration by a legislature that has little connection with the subject matter of the bill.

Riders are often created as a tactic to pass a controversial provision that would not pass as its own bill.

For example, a 2005 bill in West Virginia that aimed to limit the number of members that cities can appoint to boards of parks and recreation also included a rider that made English the official language of the state of West Virginia.

Most members of the West Virginia Legislature didn’t realize the rider had been entered into the bill until it had already passed both state houses.

[Related: Lawmakers Miss Stuff in Bills All the Time (And So Do You)]

To counteract riders, 43 of the 50 U.S. states have provisions in their state constitutions allowing the use of line-item vetoes so that the executive can veto single objectionable items within a bill, and without affecting the original intent or effectiveness of the bill.

Those states that do not provide the governor line-item veto power include: Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Then-West Virginia governor Joe Manchin vetoed the 2005 bill due to the state constitution’s germaneness provision limiting bills to one topic.

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