The Path from Idea to Bill to Law in Pennsylvania

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INTRODUCTION OF A “BILL”
A law begins as an idea that is brought to the state legislature by a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives, by the Governor, or by an individual. The vast majority of laws begin as ideas that ordinary individuals or organizations present to their State Legislators.
The Legislator takes the idea to the lawyers in the Legislative Reference Bureau to “draft” it in the form of a “bill”. A bill must be sponsored by one or more Senators or Representatives. The more sponsors a bill has the more likely it is to become law – especially if sponsors represent both major political parties relatively equally.
A bill may be started in either the Senate or the House. A bill is assigned a title, a number, and a printer number when it is introduced. If a bill is amended (and nearly all are), the bill number remains the same but the printer number changes. Therefore, it is important to always check the printer number to assure that you have the most current version of the bill.
THE COMMITTEE
When a bill is introduced in the Senate, the President, or President Pro tempore, of the Senate assigns it to the appropriate committee. If it is introduced in the House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House follows the same procedure. The committee reviews the bill and decides whether it should be sent to the full chamber for consideration. The committee may hold public hearings or otherwise allow the public to express its opinion as to whether the bill should become law. Individuals interested in a bill that is in a committee may wish to contact the Chair of that committee to discuss their views and/or to ask for public hearings on the bill. The committee has the option of amending the bill or of keeping it in its original form. The committee also has the option of deciding not to “report” the bill back to the full chamber for further consideration or final passage. When that happens, the bill is said to “die in committee” and will not be considered further.
CONSIDERATION BY THE FIRST CHAMBER
The Constitution of Pennsylvania requires that a bill be considered on three separate days in both the Senate and the House. A bill receives first consideration on the day it is introduced and assigned to a committee. No floor debate or amendments are permitted at this time.
After a committee reports a bill to the full Senate or House, it goes to the floor calendar for “second consideration” by the entire body. Legislators who are not members of the committee to which the bill was first assigned now have the opportunity to offer amendments to the bill.
On “third consideration” Senators or Representatives can offer amendments to the bill only with the unanimous consent of their colleagues or upon a successful motion to suspend the rules of the chamber. Prior to the final passage vote, legislators have the opportunity to explain why they support or oppose the bill and can attempt to persuade other legislators to join with them. Upon conclusion of the debate, each Senator or Representative who is present on the floor of the Chamber must cast a vote for or against the bill. A majority of 26 of the 50 Senators and 102 of the 203 Representatives must vote “aye” for the bill to pass in their respective Chamber. (Certain appropriations bills require passage by a two-thirds majority of each Chamber.)
CONSIDERATION BY THE SECOND CHAMBER
After a bill is passed by one chamber, it goes to the second chamber for consideration. The procedure follows that of the first chamber: The bill is referred to an appropriate committee, which may amend the bill, report it to the full chamber, or let it “die” without action.
As in the first chamber, the bill must receive “second” and “third” consideration before it can be voted upon for final passage. Like their colleagues in the first chamber, members of the second chamber have the opportunity to amend and debate the bill before a final passage vote is taken by the full chamber.
If the bill is passed by the second chamber with amendments to the first chamber’s version, the bill is returned to the first chamber for further consideration. If that chamber does not agree to the amendments made by the second chamber, the bill can go to a conference committee of the two chambers or be further amended by the originating chamber and returned to the second chamber for concurrence in those amendments.
ON TO THE GOVERNOR – THE FINAL STEPS
When a bill is passed by both the House and Senate, it is sent to the Governor for consideration and to the Attorney General for review to assure that it fits into existing law. If the Governor signs the bill, it becomes law. If the Governor disagrees with all or part of the bill, the Governor vetoes the bill and sends it back to both chambers of the Legislature with a “veto message” explaining the reasons for the veto. The Legislature can decide to override the Governor’s veto with a two-thirds majority in both chambers and the bill then becomes law.
If the Governor takes no action on a bill within ten calendar days while the Legislature is in session, the bill automatically becomes law. If the Legislature is not in session, the Governor has thirty days to act before the bill would automatically become law.
Once signed by the Governor, the official certified copy of the bill is sent to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, assigned an Act Number, and filed in the Department of State. Finally, the Legislative Reference Bureau, where the bill was originally written, prepares the Act for official printing as a formal law of the Commonwealth. The new Act may contain a specific effective date or it may become effective upon publication.
Keep in mind that there are multiple opportunities for an individual to provide input along the path from an idea to a bill to a law. Until the Governor takes action at the end of the process, it is never too late to provide input – to provide public advocacy that may change the content of the bill or may enable its passage or defeat. It is solely up to the individual to take advantage of these opportunities and to become a public policy advocate.
Prepared by Senator Roy C. Afflerbach, Ret. The Afflerbach Group, LLC © 2010