part 1 of this series can be found here.
Part 2. The Policy Committee Process
In Part 1 I described how legislators introduce bills into their respective houses and the first few steps of the legislative process. We left off with bills being assigned by the Rules Committee to a policy committee that. The policy committee is where the public has an opportunity to address the legislature concerning each bill and legislators have the opportunity to question the bill’s author and those who support or oppose the bill. Policy committees each cover a specific policy field and are staffed by legislators interested in that field. The Assembly has 26 policy committees (and two fiscal): Aging and Long-Term Care; Agriculture; Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media; Banking and Finance; Business and Professions; Education; Elections and Redistricting; Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials; Governmental Organization; Health; Higher Education; Housing and Community Development; Human Services; Insurance; Jobs, Economic Development, and the Economy; Judiciary; Labor and Employment; Local Government; Natural Resources; Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security; Public Safety; Revenue and Taxation; Transportation; Utilities and Commerce; Veterans Affairs; and, Water, Parks and Wildlife. The Senate has 19 policy committees (and 2 fiscal as well): Banking, Finance and Insurance; Business, Professions and Economic Development; Education; Elections, Reapportionment and Constitutional Amendments; Energy, Utilities and Communications; Environmental Quality; Food and Agriculture; Governmental Organization; Health; Human Services; Judiciary; Labor and Industrial Relations; Local Government; Natural Resources and Water; Public Employment and Retirement; Public Safety; Revenue and Taxation; Transportation and Housing; and, Veterans Affairs.
Once a bill has been assigned to a policy committee it is put on the committees agenda (State law requires that 4 days notice be given for bill hearings) and the committee accepts letters from the public and private sectors regarding it. At a committee hearing the author presents their bill and then those who are in support of the bill are allowed to make a presentation, and the public is allowed to comment. Questions can and are often asked by committee members to the author and supporters of the bill, debate often ensues. After the supporters have finished presenting those who oppose the bill, if any, are given time to address the committee with their concerns, and proposals to remove their opposition to the bill. After arguments for and against the bill have been heard the author gives a closing statement to the committee. During the presentation of the bill amendments to the bill can be offered by committee members to the author, who can either reject or accept them, though bills can, and are, amended without the consent of the author. Once discussion of the bill has ceased the Committee will vote on the bill. If the bill receives a majority vote to pass it on, then it continues through the legislative process, if it fails passage the bill is dead. Authors are generally granted reconsideration after a bill fails passage in committee, giving them time to talk to committee members and convince them to vote the bill out of committee. Once a bill fails on reconsideration it is dead.
After a bill leaves a policy committee on a vote a number of things can happen. If the bill has costs associated with it (over $250,000) it must go to the Appropriations committee before being heard on the floor (I’ll talk about this fiscal committee in a future post). If the bill covers more than one policy area (say a bill about about college funding for Veterans that would be heard by both the Higher Education and the Veteran Affairs committees) it will go to the second committee it was referred to. If the bill is going to be amended, it has to go to the Assembly desk to be amended, read a 2nd time, and then it goes to 3rd reading or referred back to committee.
If you remember from the first post every bill has to be read three times before moving out of its house of origin. Next time I’ll explain 2nd and 3rd reading and talk about the two fiscal committees.