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Texplainer: What Does the Parliamentarian Do?

Who was the woman talking into the Senate presiding officer's ear during the filibuster watched around the world? Parliamentarians offer nonpartisan and confidential advice about legislative rules and practice.

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, l, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appeal for order as the Senate chamber erupted into chaos just before midnight June 25, 2013.


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Hey, Texplainer: What does the parliamentarian do?

During state Sen. Wendy Davis’ almost 11-hour filibuster Tuesday night, observers in the gallery and across the world saw Senate parliamentarian Karina Davis on the dais, whispering to the presiding officer throughout the evening.

The parliamentarian’s primary function is to offer nonpartisan, confidential advice on questions about legislative rules and practice. There are two, one each for the House and Senate, though there are differences in their selection and the structure of their respective offices.

The offices of the parliamentarian serve all members of their respective chambers, but they are most often seen advising the presiding member of the House and Senate during plenary sessions. That advice includes guidance on proper procedures, phrasing of statements and responses to parliamentary inquiries and points of order, according to the Texas Legislative Reference Library website.

The House office currently includes parliamentarian Chris Griesel, a deputy, one clerk and a session-only. The Senate office includes parliamentarian Karina Davis and an assistant parliamentarian.

A representative of the parliamentarian’s office is always present in the chamber when the House or Senate is in session. The Senate and House parliamentarians sit next to the presiding member.

The advice a parliamentarian provides is not binding, and the presiding member of the House or Senate can reject that advice at any time. Other members of those chambers can also appeal rulings, as seen Tuesday night when Democrats stepped up to appeal a ruling to end Davis' filibuster.

In addition to providing advice on the floor, parliamentarians can provide written advice to presiding members in advance on what to say or procedures to implement. The parliamentarians also recommend the referral of most bills to committees based on legislative rules and precedent, and they maintain publications such as the chambers' rules books.

The Senate parliamentarian, (whose office is technically within the Office of the Secretary of the Senate) is elected by the body at the recommendation of the lieutenant governor and serves as a Senate officer. The House parliamentarian is appointed directly by the speaker of the House.

Bottom line: Parliamentarians serve as nonpartisan advisors on questions about legislative rules and practice. Though they are most often seen advising the presiding member, their services are available to all representatives and senators.

Editor's note: This post has been corrected to reflect the current number of employees in the parliamentarians' offices and the location of the parliamentarians' seats.

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