It is the time of year when legislators file legislation for the next session. Every so often I feel it important to write an article which describes the process by which a bill becomes law.
Only a small percentage of introduced bills are successfully passed into law. Many of those that are approved are requested and guided through the legislative process by either lobbyists or state agency officials. There are not many bills approved that are “grassroots-driven” (requested by constituents).
Each bill must have a House and Senate author. The representative must recruit a senator to sponsor his bill in the Senate. It is important to choose a senator based on his/her abilities and commitment to the principle of the bill.
The bill filed by the representative will be assigned to a House committee where the chairman decides whether to give the bill a hearing and, if so, the full committee is then required to vote on passage. Many bills die without receiving a hearing.
A bill passed by a committee must receive permission from the Majority Floor Leader in order to be considered by the full House. If he consents to providing a hearing on the floor of the House, the full House has to vote on passage.
Numerous bills fail to receive the clearance of the Majority Floor Leader for placement onto the floor calendar and even if they are placed on the calendar, they still may not be heard simply because the deadline for hearing the bill kicks in before the bill can be heard by the full House. This concentration of power is a horrible flaw in the legislative process and one which should be eliminated.
Once the bill is approved by the House, it is sent to the Senate where the process is repeated, including a committee assignment, a vote in committee and a vote on the floor of the Senate. Even when approving a House bill, the Senate may strike the title of the bill which will force it to go into the conference committee process, because no bill can become law without a title.
The bill then returns to the House where any Senate amendments must be considered by a vote of the House. If the author of the bill rejects the Senate amendments, the bill goes to a conference committee.
If either the Senate or the House leadership fails to assign conference committee members (conferees) to the bill prior to the deadline for assignments, the bill dies. If the leadership of either the House or Senate decide that they do not support the bill, they simply refuse to appoint conferees, which kills the bill. If conferees are assigned, the bill has to receive the support of a majority of both House and Senate conference committee members. This means the author of the bill has to once again present the bill in the committee environment.
If the conference committee approves the bill, it needs approval once again through a vote of the entire House and Senate. If the bill is not scheduled by the Legislature’s late May deadline in either the House or Senate, it does not pass. This provides leadership with one final method of killing a bill if they choose to do so.
If both legislative chambers approve the bill, it is sent to the Governor for her approval. If the Governor vetoes the bill, it has to go back to the House and the Senate for a possible override vote. In order to override the Governor’s veto, at least two-thirds of both House and Senate must vote for the override.
As the reader can see, winning approval for grassroots-backed legislation isn’t an easy task. Without the support mechanism of a professional special interest group or a government agency, legislative proposals face an uphill battle.
You will also take note that this is not a democratic process through which good ideas rise on their own merit; instead, it remains an archaic process of closed-door, behind-the-scenes, concentrated power that all too often kills good policy for the wrong reasons, while advancing the special interest proposals that are good for the special interests at the expense of the whole.
Until Oklahomans insist on a complete, transformative overhaul of the legislative process (likely through an initiative petition process to amend the Constitution), they will continue to receive the same results.