Legislators are supposed to argue points of law, but they are supposed to do it in a way that is organized and respectful. However, partisan contention in the federal and state legislatures does seem to have caused increasing rudeness and hostility in our lawmaking process. Minnesota, or at least the Senate in Minnesota, is trying to change that.
Minnesota Senate Rule 36.8 says “All remarks during debate shall be addressed to the President.” It’s a common rule found in most state legislatures and in Congress, but two years ago Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk specifically interpreted the rule to mean that senators may not look at each other when speaking. If they do, they are immediately reprimanded. It’s an attempt to bring more decorum back to the Minnesota Senate and force more listening instead of theatrics – no more grandstanding, no angry stare-downs, no shouting matches. You can’t even turn around and treat your colleagues as an audience. Your words have to live on their own merit without visual clues or help.
The basic rule is found in British law as far back as the 1500’s as well as rules discouraging bringing swords to the House of Commons.