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How a Bill Becomes Law

How a Bill Becomes Law 2017-03-15T16:45:22+00:00

Submission of Bills by Legislators and Committees
In odd-year sessions, members of the General Assembly may file proposed bills and resolutions in the chamber (House or Senate) in which they serve. In even-year sessions, individual legislators may introduce only those proposed bills and resolutions that are of a fiscal nature. Standing committees may introduce bills on any topic in any regular session of the General Assembly.

Proposed bills are not written in full statutory language. Rather, they state briefly (usually in a single paragraph), the substance of the proposed legislation in informal, non-statutory language. Only a committee may introduce bills written in formal statutory language.

A member may present a proposed bill to the Clerk of the House or Senate who assigns it a bill number. Each proposed bill is eventually referred to a committee for their consideration.

A committee then separates the proposed bills referred to it into subject categories and, after providing legislators with time to express their views on these proposed bills, prepares fully drafted bills on those subjects on which it feels bills should be drafted. These become “committee” bills drafted in formal statutory language. A committee may also choose to draft a bill on a wholly new subject. Such bills are called “raised” bills. The majority of proposed bills are not acted on by the committee and are not drafted into a committee bill. The proposed bill is then considered “dead” in the committee.

Each committee has strict deadlines that must be followed when considering bills. Any bill, even if it had a public hearing, is considered to have “died” in committee if not reported out by the committee deadline. This deadline is called the “JF” (Joint Favorable) deadline. The ‘JF” deadline for each committee can be viewed by clicking here (see column 8 of the chart).

Public Hearing

The staff of a committee must publish a public hearing notice five days before a hearing is to be held on a bill. The five days include weekends and the actual day of the hearing itself. Speakers must sign-up to speak based on the rules of the committee and are usually given three minutes to offer their testimony. The first hour of a public hearing is reserved for public officials and legislators.

Committee Action

After the public hearing, the committee meets to decide upon its action on the bill. Notice of such meeting is published in the Bulletin and all meetings are open to the public. The committee has several options: (1) A “favorable” report which indicates that a majority of the committee favors the bill and recommends its passage; (2) a “favorable substitute,” that is a bill amended by the committee before it is favorably reported; (3) a vote to reject, or to “box,” the bill; (4) an “unfavorable” report, which indicates that a majority of the committee opposes the bill and recommends its rejection. A committee may also vote a “change of reference” or a “favorable change of reference” to another committee.

The Bill in the House and Senate

Upon a favorable vote by the committee, the bill is referred to the chamber of origin, either the House or Senate.  Each favorably reported bill is printed and receives a file number distinct from the original bill number. Bills are placed on the Calendar by title, file number, and bill number in the order in which they are received from the committee. Bills that are ready for action (that is, those bills which have been in the files of the members for two days) are marked with an “XX” on the Calendar. Bills are then called from the Calendar to be acted upon by the appropriate chamber. Each chamber may vote to adopt a consent calendar on which bills may be placed and then passed on a motion without debate. Any member may move for removal of a bill from the consent calendar and, when so removed, the bill is considered on the regular calendar.

Amendments may be offered by members at any time prior to final passage.

Passage and Engrossment

After a bill has passed one chamber, it is transmitted to the other chamber and is placed on its calendar. If the other chamber amends the bill, it comes back to the first chamber for approval. If the amendments are not approved, a conference committee may be appointed to resolve the differences. When a bill is passed by both chambers, it is then delivered to the Legislative Commissioners’ Office for engrossing and supervision of printing in its final form. A Legislative Commissioner, the Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk of the House then signs the engrossed bill, and the bill is transmitted by the Clerks to the Secretary of the State who presents it to the Governor for his approval or veto.

Action by the Governor

If the Governor receives the bill while the legislature is in session, he has five calendar days, exclusive of Sundays and holidays, in which to sign or veto the bill. If the bill is vetoed it is returned to the chamber in which it originated with a statement of his objections. The bill may be reconsidered and, if passed by at least two-thirds of the members of each chamber of the General Assembly, it becomes law. If the Governor does not sign or veto the bill within five calendar days, it automatically becomes law, unless the General Assembly has adjourned the regular or special session. If the regular or special session has adjourned, the bill becomes law unless the Governor, within fifteen calendar days after it has been presented to him, transmits it to the Secretary of the State with his objections. In such case, the bill does not become law unless it is reconsidered and re-passed by the General Assembly by at least two-thirds of the members of each chamber of the General Assembly for its constitutionally mandated Veto Session.

Veto Session

If the Governor vetoes any bill after the General Assembly has adjourned, the Secretary of the State must reconvene the General Assembly on the second Monday after the last day on which the Governor is either authorized to transmit or has transmitted every bill to the Secretary with his objections. The reconvened session is for the sole purpose of reconsidering vetoed bills. The General Assembly must adjourn not later than three days following its reconvening.