While we know that the State Legislature
makes laws, many of us are unfamiliar with the actual lawmaking process and how
we can influence it.
Perhaps you have just read something in the
newspaper about a bill introduced in the California Legislature and you want to
find out more about it. This guide presents the information sources that are
available to you as you try to keep informed. It also describes the process that
bills must travel to become enacted into law.
If we had to summarize our advice in just two
words it would be district office. Each Senator and Assemblymember maintains an
office in his or her district, probably very near to where you live. This office
exists to help you, the constituent. It is just a telephone call away from
everything you need to know about a bill, about when it will be heard in
committee, about the amendments that have changed the bill, or about how to
arrange an interview with your legislator to express your opinions in
Step 1: How Your Idea
Becomes A Bill
All legislation starts off as an idea. these ideas can
come from anybody and the process begins when either an individual or group
persuades a Member of the Legislature to author a bill. The Member then sends
the idea and the language for the bill to the Legislative Counsel's Office where
it is drafted into the actual bill. The drafted bill is returned to the
legislator for his or her review. Persons or groups that originated the idea for
the bill may also review it to ensure that the provisions they desire are in the
bill in the correct form. If the author is a Senator, the bill is introduced at
the Senate Desk; if an Assemblymember, at the Assembly Desk, where it is
assigned a number and read for the first time.
Step 2: What To Do When
Your Bill Goes To Policy Committee
The bill then goes to the Senate or
Assembly Rules committee where it is assigned to a policy committee. You can
find out where your bill is assigned by calling the author. Since bills are not
heard in policy committee until 30 days after they have been introduced and
printed, there is plenty of time to investigate a bill or contact your
legislator to communicate your position on the bill.
Each bill must appear in the Daily File for four days prior to being heard in a
committee. The Daily File is the agenda of the day's business, together with
public notice of bills set for committee hearings. By checking the File, you can
keep track of bills that are being scheduled for committee. If you live out of
town and plan to testify at the hearing, it is a good idea to call the author or
your legislator to make sure that the bill is going to be heard on that date.
Sometimes bills are taken off the agenda at the last moment.
At this point, the role of the district
Office should be emphasized. District Office staff are there to serve the needs
of constituents. They can be extremely helpful in making contacts and getting
information from Sacramento.
It is a good idea to schedule a meeting with
your legislator while he or she is in the district. Communicate your concerns
regarding legislation. Indicate that you want to work with the Member's office
on a particular issue.
Most bills generate support and opposition
from a variety of groups. Find out who these groups or individuals are by
calling the author's office where lists of the letters and phone calls received
on each bill are kept. A good strategy is to align yourself with the groups that
hold your position and work together to talk to the members of the committee
BEFORE the bill is heard. Keep your letters and discussions with the legislators
short and to the point.
When testifying before the committee, first
state your name and the organization that you represent or indicate that you are
a concerned citizen and state where you live. The members of the committee will
be interested to hear what you have to say and usually do not grill individual
citizens who testify in the same way that they do lobbyists. Keep your testimony
short and to the point.
Step 3: What If Your
Bill Goes To A Fiscal Committee?
If the bill has a fiscal impact or a
state cost, it will be heard in either the Senate or Assembly Appropriations
Committees. At this point, you should inform the members of the committee why
you support or oppose the bill based on a fiscal argument. The finance
committees are concerned about fiscal impact and not policy
Try to see the staff analysis that has been
done on the bill by the policy committee, the Department of Finance, and/or the
Legislative Analyst. Members of the fiscal committees read these analyses before
they vote. These analyses are available on the
If you believe that the numbers or the fiscal
impact of the bill are not correct as reported in these analyses you should
prepare your written comments before the committee meets. Your written material
should be available to pass out to the committee members at the hearing where
you present your testimony.
After the bill passes the fiscal committee,
it is read for the second time on the Floor.
Step 4: After Your Bill
Passes The House Of Origin And Goes To The Second House
Third Reading is
the last stage that a bill goes through in the House of Origin before it passes
to the second House to go through the committee process all over again. On Third
Reading, the author presents the bill for passage by the entire house. Most
bills require a majority vote (it must pass by 21 votes in the Senate and 41
votes in the Assembly), while urgency measures and appropriation bills require a
two-thirds vote (27 in the Senate, 54 in the Assembly).
At any time during the legislative process
the bill may be amended, either in committee or on the Floor. After the
amendments have been submitted to the author, the bill goes to another printing
to reflect the changes that have been made. the Senate or Assembly History
records the dates when a bill has been amended. Amendments can be substantial or
technical and may affect your position on the bill.
Amendments should be followed very carefully
and contact with the District Office can be helpful in keeping track of current
versions of a bill. If you "subscribe" to the bill,
these amendments will automatically be sent to you. If you change your position
on a bill due to a favorable or unfavorable amendment, you should inform the
author and your legislator.
If a Senate bill is amended by the Assembly,
or vice versa, and the House of Origin refuses to concur in those amendments,
the bill will go to a conference committee. If the House of Origin does concur,
the bill goes to the governor.
Members of the conference committee are
appointed by the Rules Committees; three members from the Senate and three from
the Assembly meet to negotiate out the differences. If they agree on a single
version, it goes back to both Floors for approval.
Communicate to your legislator or the author
which amendments you prefer and why. The conference committee meetings,
particularly at the end of the two-year legislative session, are scheduled
quickly and can be easily missed. You must stay in close contact with the
author's staff to stay on top of fast-breaking developments. It is also
important to know who will be serving on the conference committee so you can
inform them of your position.
Step 5: You Can Still
Act After Your Bill Goes To The Governor
The Governor has 12 days to
sign, approve without signing, or veto a bill. A letter or phone call to the
Governor's Office is appropriate to state your position on the bill.
If the bill is signed or approved without a
signature, it goes to the Secretary of State to be chaptered. If the governor
vetoes the bill, a two-thirds vote in each house is needed to override the veto.
The Governor's office releases veto messages which explain the veto; these
messages are available from the Governor's Office and on the
Legislative and committee staff are the people that you will be
working with most of the time. They are your liaison to the legislator. They are
usually experts in a particular area and speaking with them ensures that your
concerns will be communicated knowledgeably to the legislator.
Be cognizant of the deadlines and procedures that operate in the
Legislature. Letters or email messages that arrive after a bill is passed or
killed have no effect.
There are hundreds of different groups with
legislative offices in Sacramento that follow the activities of the Legislature.
Many of these groups publish newsletters which are good sources of up-to-date
information. People who are following bills should be aware of the bill subscription service
offered by the Senate.
A wealth of legislative information is now
available on the Internet. You can get bills, amendments, staff analyses,
committee agendas, and other legislative information plus a simple way to track
For more information, ask your Senator's
office for a copy of the brochure, "The California State Senate on the
Internet: How to Use Your Computer to Find Legislative Information and
Participate in California's Lawmaking Process" or go to the Senate Home Page.