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Basics: Legislative Process

Background

The legislative processes at the federal and the state level are essentially the same and are based on a bicameral legislative system. Bicameral basically means that there are two chambers (House and Senate) through which all legislation must move. The U.S. Congress and all state legislatures (except Nebraska) operate under the bicameral system.

The legislative process is designed to be slow and deliberate. With any given piece of legislation there are many opportunities to impact the outcome and amend a bill to make it more favorable. However, the vast majority of legislation (or bills) introduced never become law. If the legislation does not have strong support or doesn't have "legs", it will likely not see any movement and "die in committee."

The U.S. Congress and the Ohio General Assembly operate on two-year cycles. We are currently in the 111th Congress, which began January 2009 and will last through December 2010. Each Congress has two sessions - the first session (of the current Congress) is 2009 and the second session is 2010. The 128th Ohio General Assembly began in January 2009 and will also run through December 2010. Unlike Congress, the General Assembly does not refer to each year as a session. Any legislation that is introduced during a particular Congress or General Assembly is only active until the end of that term. Legislation must be passed before the end of the term or it dies and must be reintroduced in a new term.

How a bill becomes a law

Below is a brief description of the legislative process. There may be slight differences between chambers in the General Assembly and/or Congress based on the rules adopted by each body. For clarity purposes I will refer to the process in Ohio.

First Consideration - After a state legislator becomes aware of an issue, legislation is drafted to address the problem and is then introduced before the full Ohio House or Ohio Senate.

Second Consideration - Following introduction, the legislation is then referred to the appropriate committee for public hearings. After public hearings the committee members will report, or vote successfully, to send the bill (with amendments) to the full chamber. See legislative committees.

Third Consideration - After the committee has reported the bill the entire chamber, House or Senate, will then debate the bill, make additional amendments (if any) and vote on the measure.

This three-step process will be repeated again in the other chamber. Once the two chambers have successfully passed the bill they must reconcile the two versions (given amendments the two versions are very likely to have some differences). If the original chamber accepts the amendments made in the second chamber the bill is forwarded to the Governor for signature or veto. If the two chambers disagree a conference committee (with members from both chambers) will be formed to work out differences before the bill is sent to the Governor.

Legislative Committees

Legislative Committees are the setting where most of the public work is conducted in terms of legislation and these committees serve the same function at both the federal and state levels. Committees are critical for the Congress or the General Assembly to hand the volume of legislation introduced. The committee structure allows for a more in depth review of issues and is the point in the process where the individual citizens can present their views in public testimony.

Members of Congress and the General Assembly are assigned to committees by legislative leadership, who also appoint the committee chairperson. Some committee assignments are more coveted than others (i.e., Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee) because they may present a member with an opportunity to have a more significant impact on public policy, give them a higher public profile or present them with the ability to solicit political contributions from a wider audience. There are also several types of committees such as standing committees, subcommittees, joint committees, etc. and each serves a different, unique purpose.

Finding and Understanding Legislative Information

Federal - The Library of Congress is the main source of information for federal legislation. More specifically, THOMAS is the website maintained by the Library of Congress that has information about Congress on the Internet.

In addition to THOMAS, there are also several subscription services (Congressional Quarterly, Congressional Daily, etc.) that provide legislative tracking at the federal level as well as in-depth analysis on issues and the latest news. These serves are fairly expensive and you may find that free information you can get from associations and other news sources may suffice (I will cover these sources in the Higher Education Legislative Committees, Agencies and Associations section).

State - The Ohio Legislative Service Commission (LSC) is the main source of information for state legislation.

In addition to LSC, there are also two subscription services that monitor legislative activity in Columbus and daily reports on activity in state government. The College subscribes to Gongwer is available through the College's connection to OhioLink.


Key Legislative-related Websites


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