Meeting October 4-5, 2018 in St. Simons Island, Georgia, the Commission on the General Conference adopted a plan for the legislative structure of the Special Session of the 2019 General Conference.
The Commission on the General Conference has determined by a unanimous vote that there will be only one legislative committee —to which all delegates will be assigned — for the Special Session of the 2019 General Conference. All legislation deemed in harmony with the call will be assigned to that committee.
“Our goal was to establish a framework that enables the body of delegates to do the best work possible,” said Duncan McMillan, chairperson of the Commission on the General Conference. “We believe that the model selected by the Commission allows for the most transparency, fairness, best use of time and allows the full participation of delegates in the entire process.”
The decision was made after careful consideration of different legislative structures to determine how to facilitate the work of the legislative body within the allotted three days. According to the Plan of Organization for the General Conference, petitions may not simply be considered in a plenary session. All properly submitted petitions and reports must be assigned to a legislative committee.
The Commission on the General Conference has the responsibility for setting the number of legislative committees in consultation with the Business Manager and the Secretary of the General Conference (par. 511.4f).
Traditionally, legislative committees have been assigned petitions related to certain Disciplinary paragraphs or topics. Because the special session is limited in scope, this structure would not allow for the consideration of plans as a whole. The Commission also considered the possibility of dividing into committees that would consider all petitions that are similar in nature or related to a particular plan. The model that was selected by the Commission, however, would allow all delegates to be a part of the entire process and to be equally informed and involved.
The process and schedule established for the legislative gathering provides that Saturday, February 23 will be designated for prayer and preparation, with the culmination of Praying Our Way Forward, a worship service and education and training. Each day of the special session will begin with worship, and worship will also be woven throughout the three days.
The first official day of the session, Sunday, February 24, will be dedicated to organizational and administrative matters, the report from the Commission on a Way Forward and plenary discussion of the various plans to discern the direction the conference wants to pursue.
On Monday, February 25, the body would go into legislative committee to consider, amend and vote on petitions. The chair of the committee will be elected by the delegates from a pool of delegates who have been trained and served as committee chairs in 2016. As required by Par. 507.10, all proper petitions submitted to the General Conference would be voted on in the legislative committee.
On Tuesday, February 26, the body would go back into plenary session for final voting, considering future directions and closing worship. All petitions approved by a legislative committee must have a vote by the plenary session.
Commission members also had the opportunity to try out a new device to be used both for voting and speaker recognition during the special session.
The device utilizes smartcard technology, which makes it impossible to vote more than once. Each delegate will have their own smartcard, which can be used in any device. The color screen gives users easy-to-understand prompts directing them what to do, as well as to show them how they voted, when their vote has been received and when they have made a request to speak.
“We believe this device will make voting more secure, and make the process of requesting to speak or make a motion go more smoothly,” said Sara Hotchkiss, Business Manager of the General Conference.
In other business, the Commission voted to have two offerings during the Special Session: an offering traditionally held for pages and marshals and another for UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief).