Untangling the Legislative Process

On Wednesday someone asked me how to tell where a bill is in the legislative process. Good question.

The legislature has produced a wacky summary of the legislative process (which you can see at http://www.leg.wa.gov/CivicEd/Pages/bill2Law_elementary.aspx. Here’s is a more sober description:

The legislative process moves forward in five steps:

Step 1.) Introducing bills: (Jan.10 – Feb. 23)

Only legislators may introduce a bill. Everyone else, from the governor to you and me, has to ask a legislator to introduce a bill. Senators’ bills always start in the Senate; representatives’ bills always start in the House of Representatives.

The legislature does its work in committees. The majority party decides how many committees to have and what to call them. And the majority party always holds a majority in each committee. The committees study bills and then have until the first legislative deadline to approve or ignore a bill. They also can edit a bill—pass an amendment–before they act on it.

Step 2.) Floor action. (Feb 24 – March 10)

Legislators have until March 10 to move bills past the next hurdle: a vote by all of the members of the chamber where the bill started. In other words, by March 10, Senate bills face a vote of the entire Senate and House bills a vote of the entire House. Each chamber can approve, reject, or ignore bills. And the bill may be edited again in this phase.

Step 3.) Repeat. (March 11 – March 28)

In this phase each chamber hears the bills of the other chamber. at each stage of consideration, the opposite chamber can edit or completely rewrite the bills of the other.

Step 4.) Ironing out differences. (March 29 – April 24)

In the last few weeks of the legislative session, the Senate and House spend much of their time ironing out differences between versions of bills. If they agree on a final version, each chamber votes on it one more time and sends it to the last step.

Step 5.) The governor’s desk.

During session the governor has five days from the time a bill lands on her desk to do something with it. The governor has 30 days after the final day of session to act on a bill. She can approve the whole thing, veto the whole thing, or veto parts of a bill (nothing less than a full section). If she doesn’t act on a bill, it becomes law without her signature.

You’re already sorry someone asked about this process, right? I did my best. It could have been worse …..

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About Linda Schactler

Linda is the former Director of Communications for the Washington State Senate, and former deputy director of the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board. From 2000 through 2010 Linda was the proprietor of Schactler Communications, an Olympia-based public affairs business. She holds a master of arts in English literature from Washington University in St. Louis. Linda can be reached at her Ellensburg office schactler@cwu.edu, 509-963-1384, or on her cell phone, 509-607-4103.
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