How a bill becomes a law, and how committee meetings work


On January 14, 2017, a group from the Green Party of Utah attended the “Pre-Legislative Bootcamp” hosted by Libertas Utah to gain insight into how to more effectively communicate with Utah's legislators and navigate the processes of law-making and advocacy. Find our notes from the event below.

Note: the Legislative Session starts on January 23rd and ends on March 9th.

Presented by John Knotwell (Republican) and Connor Boyak (founder of Libertas)

  1. Starts with an idea- from a constituent, special interest group, lobbyists, Governor, or the legislature.

  2. The bill can start in the House or the Senate. Does not make a difference.

  3. Bills is drafted by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, an office of lawyers. Once the draft is finalized, it gets published online. Some are not published if they need further research or if the idea is not fully developed.

  4. Tip: if you are pushing a bill, have the language ready to go so the office can copy and paste your proposal.

  5. The bill is a physical object- printed out in a blue plastic folder and transferred throughout this entire process.

  6. Bill is introduced to the legislature and gets sent to the Rules Committee. This is a committee of about 8 members that determines which Standing Committee, if any, will receive the bill. The Rules Committee has the power to hold or drop the bill here.

  7. Tip: these members are chosen by the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate, so this is an important position to vote for and pay attention to.

  8. Bill goes to the Standing Committee where the bill is discussed and the public can chime in.

  9. Tip: this is where advocates come in. You can testify, lobby, etc. However, by this time, most legislators minds are made up about the bill, so it’s best to reach them before they get to this point.

  10. Talk one on one with your representatives. It’s most effective to physically go to the capitol and find them. If they are in a meeting, you can send in notes with your name and number and sometimes they will text you.

  11. You can also text your representatives with their cell phone number listed online. Sometimes you can plant questions this way if you are listening in on a meeting and want to make sure a point gets across.

  12. The bill is returned to the floor. This is where the committee reports the bill out favorably, favorably with amendments, substituted, or tabled the bill.

  13. The bill is debated in open sessions. The bill can be amended, substituted, held.

  14. Must receive 38 votes in the House and 15 in the Senate in order to pass.

  15. If the bill passes: it is signed by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House.

  16. The Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel prepares the bill in its final form before sending to the Governor. This is called the “enrolled” bill.

  17. Bill is sent to Governor who can sign, veto, or abstain his signature (which allows the bill to go into law).

  18. If the bill is vetoed, goes back to the Senate/House for veto override. Needs 50 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate to override.

  19. The bill becomes effective within 60 days of passing.

Committees:

  • The committees receive a 24 hour notice on a bill (deadline is strict). This is when the bill becomes agendized for the committee meetings.

  • You can get notified about the status of a bill online using the Bill Trackers. (Find the bill online, and either click “track this” or sign up for email notifications on the right side of the website. Note: if you choose “track this” the page uses cookies, so it will not track if you pull it up on a different browser. Work around the cookies by using email notifications.)

  • Committee process is very parliamentary and will ask for public comment. Keep your comments to 1-2 minutes.

  • Most committee meetings are about 2 hours. Do not come in with the expectation that they will talk about your bill- agendas are not set in stone.

  • It takes about 5 weeks to get a draft into a bill.

  • Tip: since the legislative session is relatively short (at 45 days), most legislators have limited bandwidth to consider comments and change their minds on a bill. Keep your points concise during the session, and after it’s over engage more with your representatives. Invite them out to lunch or other things to build a relationship with them.

Takeaways: Get to know the committees and who is on which Standing Committee. The committee meetings are where your voice will be most effective.

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