Countless lawmakers have dubbed 2015 the year of the “education session” in the General Assembly.
It’s an apt nickname – there’s a ton of school-related issues to keep track of right now. So much so that even experts get confused about which bill is which, and where it is in the process of potentially becoming law.
So, let’s break it down.
First, a quick reminder of how a bill becomes a law at the state level (keep in mind, if any step in this system doesn’t happen, the bill “dies”):
- PRE-INTRODUCTION: An idea is developed, and a senator or representative decides to sponsor it. He or she drafts a bill, with research and technical help from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA).
- INTRODUCTION: The representative enters the bill into his or her respective chamber. The only exception here is that bills raising revenue can only originate in the House.
- CONSIDERATION: This is where the sausage is made. Chamber leadership calls the bill for discussion.
- Consideration – First reading: The bill is read aloud to the entire chamber and assigned to an appropriate committee for review.
- Consideration – Committee: The committee chairperson puts the bill up for public hearing, where the full committee hears testimony, discusses merits and pitfalls of the measure, and votes to advance the bill.
- Consideration – Second reading: The bill returns to the chamber it came from for discussion before the entire body. Any legislator in that body can suggest amendments to the bill, which have to be approved by a majority vote. After all approved amendments have been added, the bill moves to a third reading. The chamber may also send the bill back to committee, if they need more information.
- Consideration – Third reading: The same chamber now schedules the same bill for a third discussion. Afterwards, the chamber votes to advance the bill as a whole.
- Consideration – Opposite chamber: The bill moves to the other legislative chamber, who then repeats the same process of consideration (first reading > committee > second reading > third reading).
- Consideration – Finalizing: The bill returns to the chamber of origin, which must approve or deny any changes their counterparts added. If approved, the bill moves on. If denied, the bill goes to a conference committee – a group made up of two members from each chamber, one from each political party. Once they reach agreement, the bill returns to both chambers for approval.
- GOVERNOR’S ACTION: The bill is presented to the governor, who has seven days to act. He or she has three options:
- He can sign the bill, in which case it becomes law.
- He can do nothing, in which case the bill becomes law without his signature.
- He can veto it, in which case it goes back to the House and Senate, who have the opportunity to over-ride the veto with a majority vote. If both chambers achieve that majority, the bill becomes law.
The majority of laws take effect July 1 of the year they’re approved, although some take effect immediately upon passage and others are delayed even further.
At present moment, most bills are in one of the various stages of “consideration.”
We’re following a bunch of measures at StateImpact this session, and with a few exceptions, the legislation we’re most interested in likely falls into one of two categories: