By J. Matt Lea, City Lobbyist to the Tennessee General Assembly, Special Assistant to the Mayor, Office of Mayor Ron Littlefield
The Legislative Process
The legislative process can be a long, arduous progression that can take years or, if the needs of the state or nation are at risk, can take mere hours. For brevity, I will briefly describe this historic American process.
All states have a bicameral (Latin for two houses) legislature, meaning a House and a Senate, comprised of representatives and senators. The Federal Government also follows this same model, slightly differing in the fact states have governors and the nation has a President.
In order for a proposed bill to be signed into law, it requires both houses to pass the same bill and then the governor or president must sign it for completion. Once signed, it will be added to the state code and go into effect on the date listed in the legislation.
Where Bill Ideas Come From
The process begins with an idea, a request or a need from a specific person, organization, government agency or company. Someone, usually a lobbyist, contacts an elected official, explains the need for legislation and then asks him or her to sponsor their bill. If the official agrees, depending on what house they are a member, they must find someone from the opposite house to cosponsor this legislation. This second person(s) is responsible for passing the bill on their side of the house.
Most of the legislative process is accomplished in committees and sub-committees. Committees represent key aspects of everyday government, like issues dealing with commerce, state and local governments, budget, finance and transportation. Once the legislation has been designated to a specific committee, it then goes to a sub-committee, which reviews the bill in detail, and a small group of elected officials will review and edit the bill. If the majority of sub-committee members disapprove, the bill will “die” there and never make the return journey to regular committee.
If the bill is recommended to the committee as a whole, the bill will return to the full committee, and the process will restart. Once again, it is either recommended for or against passage by the committee as a whole. If it passes, it will then make it to the floor of the respective house where all members of that house will debate the bill and vote yes or no.
If the floor votes in favor of the bill, it will be embossed and sent to the opposite house where they can adopt their recently passed copy, keep their current one or combine parts of each for a totally new bill and once again, the whole process will start all over.
Eventually, sometimes after several rounds in committee, if the legislation has enough support, it will pass both houses in the same form and be given to the Governor or the President for final signage.
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