The word "germane" usually is defined as "in close relationship, appropriate, relative or pertinent to." According to Tilson's Parliamentary Law and Procedure, the basic principle of germaneness "lies in the need for orderly legislation."
The principle of germaneness was relatively unknown in general parliamentary law before the late 1700s. The Congress of the Confederation-the precursor to the Congress of the United States-made an attempt to address germaneness in 1781. The first formal germaneness rule was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1789. The text of the original rule was modified in 1822 to read: "No motion or proposition, on a subject different from that under consideration, shall be admitted under color of amendment." This wording became the basis for most modern germaneness provisions.
Today, the principle of germaneness is well established. Forty state constitutions contain a provision that requires a bill to address or contain a single subject. In Mississippi, germaneness is implied, but a single subject requirement is not specifically stated in the constitution. No specific single subject provision is set forth by the constitutions in Arkansas, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.
In addition, over three-fourths of the state legislative chambers reported that they have rules on germaneness of amendments or motions.
Tests for germaneness
Germaneness means the relevance or appropriateness of amendments or motions to the item under discussion. What does this mean? How does one decide what is germane?
Former U.S. House Speaker John G. Carlisle set this test for germaneness: "After a bill has been reported to the House, no different subject can be introduced into it by amendment whether as a substitute or otherwise. When, therefore, it is objected that a proposed amendment is not in order because it is not germane, the meaning of the objection is merely that it [the proposed amendment] is a motion or proposition on a subject different from that under consideration."
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 presiding officer or parliamentarian should:
1. Look to the state constitution, chamber rules, other chamber precedents and adopted parliamentary manual for requirements on germaneness.
2. Develop a personal checklist of test ideas.
3. Use good judgment to make a fair determination.
Sample Checklist to Test Germaneness
- Does the amendment deal with a different topic or subject?
- Does the amendment unreasonably or unduly expand the subject of the bill?
- Would the amendment introduce an independent question?
- Is the amendment relevant, appropriate, and in a natural and logical sequence to the subject matter of the original proposal?
- Would the amendment change the purpose, scope or object of the original bill?
- Would the amendment change one type of motion into another type?
- Would the amendment change a private (or local) bill into a general bill?
- Would the amendment require a change in the bill title?
For more information:
Contact Brenda Erickson at (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=[rules]) or (303) 364-7700.