How a state BILL becomes LAW
Another part of becoming a state citizen lobbyist is learning how your state legislative process works.
Bills are introduced and acted upon during the state’s legislative session. Some states have a one-year session where they convene and adjourn during the same year, and some states have two-year sessions, where they convene one year and finally adjourn the following year. Bills introduced during the first year of a two-year session can be carried over into the next year. Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas only meet in odd years, while Arkansas and Wyoming only meet for budget sessions during even years.
Every state has a different process of getting a bill from draft form through the legislature and enacted into law. The following shows the general process of how a bill is moved through the legislature. While many states follow a similar system, it’s important to know your state’s specific process. Links to each state's bill to law process can be found on our state pages.
- INTRODUCED in one chamber.
- NOTE: Depending on the state, bills can go straight to committee or be read once or twice first. Then they will finish the remaining readings.
- FIRST READING by title and number only.
- COMMITTEE REFERRAL.
- SUBCOMMITTEE REFERRAL (possibly).
- SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING.
- SUBCOMMITTEE ACTION as either "favorable", "unfavorable" or "no recommendation".
- COMMITTEE HEARING if favorable or no recommendation and committee amendments may be added.
- COMMITTEE ACTION as either "Do Pass (Aye)", "Do Not Pass (Nay)" or "No Recommendation".
- FULL CHAMBER if passed by committee.
- SECOND READING by full chamber where floor amendments may be added.
- THIRD READING and final vote by full chamber.
- INTRODUCED in second chamber if passed by first where it passes same process.
- RETURNED to first chamber if approved with amendments.
- CONCURRENCE by first chamber (approval of amendments). If approved, skip to step 17.
- CONFERENCE COMMITTEE if first chamber disagrees comprised of members from both original committees to work out differences.
- VOTED on by both chambers.
- SENT TO GOVERNOR if approved.
- GOVERNOR ACTION by either signing the bill into law, vetoing it or taking no action. In some states, if the governor takes no action, the bill becomes law, but in others, it’s an automatic or “pocket” veto.
- IF VETOED, note sent to first chamber explaining why. Veto can be overridden and bill become law with a majority of both chambers.
What Can Happen in the Process?
A bill can lose momentum and die in a number of ways throughout the legislative process. Here is a list of some of the more common ways.
- The sponsor doesn’t push for hearings, so a bill never moves after it is introduced. A low percentage of bills introduced ever “move.” (Note that in some states, every bill is required to be acted on.)
- After a hearing is held, there is no further action. Often the chair of a committee is pressured by a legislator or the public to hold a hearing on a bill, but after the hearing, the bill never comes up for a vote. This happens frequently with animal bills because committee members can easily say that there’s no consensus about how to proceed. This is especially true when different animal groups disagree about the bill.
- A bill passed by committee or chamber has become so watered down with amendments that the groups originally pushing for it no longer support it.
- Members in a conference committee can’t agree on a compromise to the bill.
- Someone attaches a different issue to a bill, making it more controversial and killing it.
- Someone makes the motion to “recommit” a bill to committee for further study. This technique often allows opponents to kill a bill – without actually being on record as voting against it – by claiming they need certain provisions clarified.
- If momentum for a bill exists in only one chamber, it may pass that chamber only to go to the other chamber and die of neglect.
- A bill is referred to a committee or subcommittee that is strongly opposed to it. States differ on who has the authority to refer bills to committee.
- Members of referring committees can use their power to send a bill to its death or to a receptive group.