When you see the Lieutenant Governor presiding over the Senate, you may notice people sitting on either side of him on the rostrum. These are the attorneys appointed by their caucuses to assist with matters of parliamentary procedure and to work with the President to maintain the legislative flow. These two attorneys comprise the Office of the Senate Counsel.
When a Senator rises to a point of inquiry, the Lieutenant Governor and Senate attorneys consult Senate Rules, Joint Rules (made by the Senate and the House) or Reed’s Parliamentary Rules, depending on the inquiry, to determine whether or not the member’s point is well-taken.
There are times when a Senator rises and requests a ruling by the President during a debate. For example, a Senator may ask for a ruling on whether or not an amendment is within the “scope and object” of a bill. Senate Rule 66 prohibits an amendment to a bill from changing the scope and object of the bill. The Senator who rises to request the ruling is allowed to make a brief statement regarding why the amendment is outside the scope and object of the bill. The President also allows a Senator on the opposing side of the issue to make a brief statement regarding why the amendment fits the bill.
At some point following a debate and request for a ruling by a Senator, not necessarily immediately after it, the Lieutenant Governor and Senate counsel meet privately to review the arguments on both sides of an issue to make a determination if the Senator’s point is to be upheld. Care is taken to ensure that rulings are consistent with Senate Rules, the Washington State Constitution and precedent and the tradition of the Senate.
A compilation of rulings made by Lt. Governor Brad Owen, who served from January 1997 to January 11, 2017, is available here.