The Legislative Budget & Policy Funnel

When session opens on Monday, lawmakers will begin to submit bills for consideration–about 3000 bills, believe it or not. Each bill is referred to a committee, and then the real process starts. Bills have to earn enough votes to get out of a committee. It it’s a bill that costs money, it has to go through the Ways & Means committee. If it makes it out of there, it’s on to the Bill Graveyard, the Rules Committee, which simply serves as a medium-mesh screen for the next step–a vote of the full House or Senate. Bills that make it out of the chamber in which they started? Congratulations! You get to start all over again in the next chamber.

Perhaps the best way to describe the legislative process is to call it a funnel. Wide at the top and very thin at the bottom. You might have heard the legislative session is about passing bills. Not so. The legislative process is designed to kill bills. Rather than thinking about the process by committee, it’s just as helpful to think of it by participant.  Here’s how it works:

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State agencies (including CWU) draft budget and policy ideas over the summer and fall. All of our ideas, plus those of legislators, lobbyists and many others go into the funnel on January 14.  Policy and budget priorities then move into intense discussions by Republican, Democratic, and other caucuses (I will write about “other” later). Legislative leaders head into budget negotiations and when they’re done, there’s a blackout period for a day or two when it’s hard to tell what’s going on. A budget emerges, and then they vote.

Here is the official budget process:

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We’re already into January, and, based on this timeline, can expect an orderly and rational process that concludes in April.  Here is a more accurate image of the experience we call the legislative session.

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Best advice for following the legislative session is a good sense of humor, a strong sense of perspective, and a powerful focus. Do not try to follow every  bill. Keep an eye on the ones that get a hearing and garner enough support to move out of committee. And remember, it really isn’t over until it’s over.

Good place to start is http://www.leg.wa.gov. Committee agendas, meeting schedules, legislative schedules, legislator bios and much more!

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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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