How an Idea Becomes a State Law

Have you ever thought to yourself, “there ought to be a law about that”? Working to get state laws introduced, passed, and signed is an important part of diabetes advocacy, especially now that states are taking a very active role in healthcare. Here’s a look through the whole process, from idea to law!

Refining Your Idea

A lightbulb crashing through a wall

Having the idea to make something a state law is usually the easiest part of the process. Even if you don’t have an idea you feel strongly about yourself, there are tons of people out there trying to get their ideas put into law. Find one you feel passionate about, and you’re on your way! Here are some good questions to ask yourself when coming up with and refining your idea: 

  • Can the state government pass this law?
  • Which government agencies would need to be involved?
  • Does the law simply require authorization (something that allows a change in the law and then orders an agency to implement it) or would it require appropriation (needs money to pay for implementation)?

Getting to Know the Political Landscape

Additionally, you must get involved in the actual politics needed to pass their proposed law. Has anything like it been introduced in the state? How did each party or legislator vote on it? Once you’ve researched these questions, you’ll get a better idea of the political landscape with regard to your particular issue. Every bill has to have sponsors, so the best plan of attack is to find state representatives who are willing to take on this particular cause.

Lobbying for Your Cause

Lobbying has a bad reputation, but activist lobbying simply is talking to others about a subject you’re passionate about and trying to get them to understand your position. Nothing nefarious about it! A bill requires one sponsor from the House and one from the Senate, so you will need to make sure there are multiple parties in the legislature willing to introduce the bill. Once a bill has been introduced, you can advocate for it by joining with professional lobbyists, community organizations, and/or party leadership to promote it to the public. Proponents of the bill can also work individually on many of the same actions: calling voters to spread awareness, calling legislators to express support, knocking on doors with educational information on the bill, etc.

The Lawmaking Process

Definition of the word "law"

For this section, we’re going to generalize a bit. We can do that because, out of 99 total legislative chambers in the United States, 70 use the guide Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure. The other 13 use either Jefferson’s Manual or Robert’s Rules of Order. Because the vast majority of legislatures are structured similarly, the process for law creation can be generalized. Some legislatures use a shorter version for their particular processes, but the following steps are usually involved in each state legislative body. BUT make sure you’re following the right steps for your legislature before charging ahead! 

Bill Introduction

Bills can be introduced in either the state house of representatives or the senate. They must be sponsored by a senator and a representative. Bills are assigned an identification number upon introduction that citizens can use to track progress.

Committee Procedure

It’s hard to get a big group of people to decide on things, right? That holds true in state legislatures. Because the legislatures are so large, the majority of state government operations are through committees. Each committee is specialized to consider bills on a particular topic, so it’s important for you to identify the committee that works on the issue you are passionate about. Committees recommend bills they think are important to move on in the legislative process.

Reports of Committee

After a committee is finished working on a bill and has recommended it for further consideration, it refers the bill to the state house or senate during the reports of committee section of daily business. If a bill is reported, it is given a second reading by the larger group and put on the schedule. State legislature websites usually have daily schedules, and bills that have been reported positively by committees will be listed with a date and time for consideration by the entire house or entire senate.

Definition of the word 'legislation"

Third Reading

Once a bill gets on the calendar, it is considered at a third reading. The third reading is considered by all members of the house or senate, at which point members can study the bill in detail, debate, and amend it. If the majority vote in favor to pass the bill, it moves on to the next phase.

Transmission to the Other Chamber

If a bill passes when heard by the house of representatives or the senate, it is formally transmitted to the other chamber for consideration (if it’s been heard by the house of representatives, it’ll be passed to the senate, and vice-versa). Then the ‘new’ chamber goes through the same process as the one that’s already done the work. If the chamber receiving it does not report it from the committee it falls under, or does not consider it with the entire chamber, the bill fails. If the receiving chamber goes through the same process as the first chamber and the bill moves through each stage into the third reading, the bill is returned to the original chamber, usually with amendments. There are several ways a bill can move after this:

  • If the original chamber concurs with the amended bill, it is ready for enrollment.
  • If the original chamber does not concur with the amendments, the bill fails.
  • If the original chamber does not concur with the amendments but requests a conference committee, one such committee is appointed. Each chamber appoints members to the committee and the process continues.

Conference Committees

A conference committee works with both chambers’ versions of a bill and tries to compromise to create a single final bill. If an agreement is made, the bill passes and moves on to the governor. If one chamber refuses to adopt the report of the conference committee, further conference can be ordered, or a new conference can be appointed. If no agreement is made before the legislative session ends, the bill fails.

legal books

Presentation to Governor

Once an identical bill has passed in both chambers, it goes to the governor’s desk for consideration. The governor may sign it, which enacts the bill into law. A governor may also veto the bill, at which point he/she returns it to the original chamber with an explanation. The bill is then reconsidered (usually with suggestions for amendments by the governor) and returned to the governor if both chambers approve of the changes.

Reacting to a Veto

Another option is for a majority of each chambers’ members to approve a veto bill in the form passed by the legislature, which overrides the governor’s veto and enacts the bill into law. If a governor does not return the bill to a legislative chamber within a certain number of days after presentation, it becomes law without his/her signature. Finally, if a bill reaches the governor a certain number of days before the legislative session ends, the governor has the opportunity to veto after session adjournment. This is a pocket veto, and a very final veto, as the legislature has no chance to reconsider it.

a hand drawing a lightbulb

Revisiting Your Idea

That’s a lot of steps. We get it. It’s easy to look at that process and think that your idea will never make it through. But think about all that has come before – both good laws and bad ones – and consider that at one point, they were an idea in someone’s head. You can make it!

Even if your idea does not become a state law, think about the other impacts you could have. Throughout this entire process, you’ll meet people you can convince to care about diabetes issues. You’ll bring awareness to your idea. And you’ll work hard to make your views known, which is so fulfilling. Having your idea become a state law can change so much for so many, and even if it doesn’t make it all the way through to become a law, it can change the entire community!

What ideas do you have for your state legislature? Feel free to comment below!

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