Basic Information on the State Legislative Process

By Sager, William H. | The National Public Accountant, November 1991 | Go to article overview

Basic Information on the State Legislative Process


Sager, William H., The National Public Accountant


With Thanksgiving several weeks off and the Christmas season right around the corner, the time for convening the 1992 state legislatures will be here before we realize it. This seems to be an appropriate time to refresh our memory on how the state legislative process works, because it is the legislature that makes the laws.

The work of the legislature is a familiar subject to legislative chairpersons and legislative committees of NSPA's affiliated state organizations. However, occasionally there are appointments of individuals to the ASO's legislative committee who are not familiar with how the legislative process works. The purpose of this "Washington Comment" is to present a brief introduction to the legislative process so that members of the legislative committee may know at what precise point in the process their assistance in advocating or opposing legislation may be most effective.

While there are some minor procedural variations among the 50 state legislatures, a fairly common pattern does emerge. Except for Nebraska which consists of only one legislative body, all other states follow the federal model and the state legislature consists of two houses. The upper house is refereed to as the senate. The lower house is called the house of delegates or the assembly.

A bill may be introduced in either house and occasionally it is sponsored simultaneously in both houses. The bill is identified by the house of origin and assigned a number. For example, a bill introduced into the senate may be known as Senate Bill 10 (or SB 10 or S.10). If introduced into the house, it may be known as Assembly Bill 10 (or AB 10 or A.10). Sometimes a bill sponsored simultaneously in both houses will be assigned the same number in both houses, but this is a fairly rare occurrence.

Once a bill is drafted in legislative language and "dropped in the hopper" by its sponsor, it then follows a set pattern or procedure for consideration by the legislature. In about half of the states a bill may be introduced by "pre-filing," this is, prior to the time when the legislature is officially convened. Otherwise, a bill may not be introduced until the legislature is in session. If a bill can be introduced by pre-filing, it gives the legislators an opportunity to study and consider the merits of the bill prior to the legislative session.

After the bill is introduced, that is, assigned an identification number by its house of origin, the bill is then referred to a standing committee for consideration and public hearing. The structure and operating procedures of a committee vary among the state legislatures.

In some states, all bills introduced are automatically referred to a committee by the speaker of the lower house or the president of the senate. In a few states, a bill sometimes may not be referred. Legislatures have separate committees in each house that deal with specific subjects, and the bill will usually be referred to the committee that deals with the subject of the bill.

Committee action follows committee referral. This is the most important step in the legislative process. Committees have the authority to recommend that bills be passed as introduced, passed as amended by the committee, or killed. The power of the committee in the legislative process in overwhelming and it must be understood by the affiliated state organizations and the members of the ASO's legislative committees. If you want to get your bill passed (or if you are vigorously opposing a bill that you don't want to pass), the legislature's committee to which the bill was referred is where the front line battle will take place. …

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