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Basic information on the state legislative process.

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. Don't ever underestimate the power of a committee consideril a bill! It is the members of that committee that you want to reach with your intensive lobbying efforts.

With the committee's approval the bill will proceed to the floor of the house of origin for debate and possible floor amendments. In several states, the procedure is structured so that floor amendments are difficult to achieve. The floor action may include passing the bill in the form rrecommended by the referring committee, amending the bill or killing it. If a bill is defeated in one house, it is usually dead for the legislative session.

If the bill passes the house in which it originated, it goes to the second house where the legislative process is repeated, except in Nebraska which has only one legislative body, sometimes called a unicameral legislative chamber. If the bill survives its journey through the second house without any amendments, it is then sent to the governor for signature or veto. North Carolina appears to be an exception -- there the governor has neither the power to approve or disapprove.

If the second house amends the bill, it is returned to the house of origin for concurrence. If the original house concurs with the changes, the bill then goes to the governor. If the two houses disagree (and the second house does not withdraw its amendments) a conference committee is formed to resolve the differences between them.

The conference committee's procedures are important and vary from state to state. You must be aware that the conference committee is a high powered committee that can undo everything that has previously been done. Usually the two houses can accept or reject the conference committee's report, even though the conference committee made substantial changes to the bill. The report of the conference committee must be approved by both houses. Otherwise, the bill is dead.

When a bill is finally approved and passed by both houses of the legislature, it is sent to the governor for signature or veto. In most states the governor may veto all of the bill or he may exercise an item veto and veto part of the bill. Vetoed bills are returned to the house of origin. The legislature may pass vetoed bills if a specified majority of both houses (usually two-thirds) votes to override the veto.

In a number of states, if the legislature adjourns before the time allotted to sign a bill runs out, thereby preventing the governor from returning the bill along with a veto message, the bill dies. This is the socalled "pocket veto".

Most state legislatures meet yearly, but a few meet only during alternate years. In some states the annual legislatives sessions during the so-called "off-years" consider only fiscal and budget matters rather than general laws. The length of the session varies. Many state legislatures are limited by their constitution to a fixed number of days (e.g., 60 or 90). Six legislatures have no statutory limit on the number of days they are in session and a few legislatures are in session all year. Twenty-five states allow bills to carry over from an odd year to an even year thus giving the bill a two-year life. New Jersey and Virginia carry bills over from the even year to the odd year.

The foregoing information will give the members of affiliated state organizations a basic outline of the procedures and structure of the state legislative process. It is essential to fully understand the process if you want to successfully lobby the legislature.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Washington Comment
Author:Sager, William H.
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Previous Article:Financial statement presentation.
Next Article:The taxpayers' bill of rights: three years later.

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