Thursday, July 21, 2005

How a bill becomes law

A primer for naysayers.

I take it that the cigarette fee debate is far from dead. I’ve also noticed a severe lack of knowledge on the legislative process from many conservative and Republican bloggers. If you believed certain persons, you’d think that Gov. Pawlenty has powers of a dictator, decreeing how legislators will vote. Call it civic duty, call it righteous indignation, but I have put this together to help those misguided souls understand how we Republicans arrived at this point.

How a bill becomes law (from the Minnesota Legislature's website):


A bill is an idea for a new law or an idea to change an old law. Anyone can suggest an idea for a bill -- an individual, consumer group, professional association, government agency, or the governor. Most often, however, ideas come from legislators, the only ones who can begin to move an idea through the process. There are 134 House members and 67 senators.

Legal form

The Office of the Revisor of Statutes and staff from other legislative offices work with legislators in putting the idea for a new law into proper legal form. The revisor's office is responsible for assuring that the proposal's form complies with the rules of both bodies before the bill can be introduced into the Minnesota House of Representatives and the Minnesota Senate.


Each bill must have a legislator to sponsor and introduce it in the Legislature. That legislator is the chief author whose name appears on the bill along with the bill's file number to identify it as it moves through the legislative process. There may be up to 34 co-authors from the House and four from the Senate. Their names also appear on the bill.


The chief House author of the bill introduces it in the House; the chief Senate author introduces it in the Senate. Identical bills introduced in each body are called companion bills. The bill introduction is called the first reading. The presiding officer of the House then refers it to an appropriate House committee for discussion; the same thing happens in the Senate.


The bill is discussed in one or more committees depending upon the subject matter. After discussion, committee members recommend action -- approval or disapproval -- to the full House and full Senate. The House committee then sends a report to the House about its action on the bill; the Senate committee does likewise in the Senate.


After the full House or Senate accepts the committee report, the bill has its second reading and is placed on the House agenda called the General Register or the Senate agenda called General Orders. (A committee can recommend that non-controversial bills bypass the General Register or General Orders and go onto the Consent Calendar, where bills usually pass without debate.) After this point, House and Senate procedures differ slightly.

General Register

In the House, the General Register serves as a parking lot where bills await action by the full body. Bills chosen to appear on the Calendar for the Day or the Fiscal Calendar are drawn from the General Register.

In the Senate, a different procedure is used. Bills are listed on the General Orders agenda. Senate members, acting as the "committee of the whole," have a chance to debate the issue and offer amendments on the bill. Afterwards, they vote to recommend: passage of the bill, progress (delay action), or further committee action. And sometimes they recommend that a bill not pass. From here, the bill is placed on the Calendar.

Calendar for the Day

In the House, the Calendar for the Day is a list of bills the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee has designated for the full House to vote on. Members can vote to amend the bill, and after amendments are dispensed with, the bill is given its third reading before the vote of the full body is taken. The House also has a Fiscal Calendar, on which the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee or House Taxes Committee can call up for consideration any tax or finance bill that has had a second reading. The bills are debated, amended, and passed in one day.

In the Senate, bills approved by the "committee of the whole" are placed on the Calendar. At this point, the bill has its third reading, after which time the bill cannot be amended unless the entire body agrees to it. Toward the end of the session, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration designates bills from the General Orders calendar to receive priority consideration. These Special Orders bills are debated, amended, and passed in one day. A bill needs 68 votes to pass the House and 34 votes to pass the Senate. If the House and Senate each pass the same version of the bill, it goes to the governor for a signature.

Special Orders

Toward the end of the session, the rules committee of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate may designate bills from the General Orders to receive priority consideration in their respective bodies. These Special Orders bills are debated, amended, and passed in one day. The House also has a Rule 1.10 calendar which allows the chairs of the Taxes and Appropriations committees to call up for consideration any tax or appropriations bill that has had a second reading. These Rule 1.10 bills are debated, amended, and passed in one day.


If the House and Senate versions of the bill are different, they go to a conference committee. In the House, the speaker appoints three or five representatives, and in the Senate, the Subcommittee on Committees of the Committee on Rules and Administration selects the same number of senators to form the committee. The committee meets to work out differences in the two bills and to reach a compromise.


The conference committee's compromise bill then goes back to the House and the Senate for another vote. If both bodies pass the bill in this form, it is sent to the governor for his or her approval or disapproval. (If one or both bodies reject the report, it goes back to the conference committee for further consideration.)


Once the governor has the bill, he or she may: sign it, and the bill becomes law; veto it within three days; or allow it to become law by not signing it. During session, the House and Senate can override a governor's veto. This requires a two-thirds vote in the House (90 votes) and Senate (45 votes). The governor also may "line-item veto" parts of a money bill, or "pocket veto" a bill passed during the last three days of the session by not signing it within 14 days after final adjournment.

I’ve italicized the parts that may confuse some of you. I hope this has cleared things up.


At 6:19 AM, Blogger sd42webmaster said...

So all the DFL needs to do is propose to raise the budget to $40 billion next time. The Republicans will then compromise and make it $35 billion. And they will say "We had to do it! You didn't want us to shut down the government, did you???"

I refer you to Norm Coleman's quote in 1998:

"You wake up in the morning and have a cup of coffee, you pay a sales tax. You turn on the light, you pay a utility tax. You drive to work, you go to work, you pay an income tax, you pay a gas tax. You turn on the TV, you pay a cable tax. You get sick, you pay a provider tax. You die, you pay a death tax. We are taxed across the board, we are one of the highest taxed states in the nation, and that has to change." -- U.S. Senator Norm Coleman, 8/4/1998

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous chester.a.cheetah said...

And it has changed.

Thanks to Gov. Pawlenty's leadership, we've dropped to fifth. and that is in his first three years.

By the way, the republicans (with the acception of one or two) were not for raising taxes.

At 9:59 AM, Blogger sd42webmaster said...

Actions speak louder than words. Thanks to our leadership, we are losing friends like Phil Krinke and Michele Bachmann from leadership. Check out the latest: Michele Bachmann is losing her position in the MN Senate because she dared oppose Pawlenty's tax increase.

At 11:32 AM, Anonymous chester.a.cheetah said...

What (rather whom) is "our leadership?" DO you mean SD 42's?

I do regret Krinkie's personal decision to remove himself from the leadership.

As for Bachmann, her removal from the Senate leadership may have had more to do with her odd behavior the past several months than with her conservative stance. Besides, her congressional bid takes time away from her duties as the Assitant Minority Leader for Policy.

At 11:45 AM, Blogger sd42webmaster said...

Woops - they've updated the link on Bachmann. Find it here.

Hopefully you have seen Margaret Martin's latest piece.

Kennedy v. Machine's Gary Miller warns that Pawlenty's war on conservatives threatens to harm the entire ticket in 2006.

The discussion among activists this past week has been that the Republicans got screwed this last session. Here is one such account although it is certainly not unique.

This isn't good. And simply dismissing criticism from your friends and most ardent supporters as "nay sayers" isn't going to get you what you want.

You need to figure out how you are going to win these people over. Name calling won't do it. Lying about it and saying "it wasn't a tax" just makes it worse.

At 1:44 PM, Anonymous chester.a.cheetah said...

Pawlenty did not wage a war on conservative republicans as you say. He didwhat needed to be done to keep the goverment from shutting down. I think the pig headedness of other Republicans is what will hurt us in 2006.

As for Bachmann, that's just her view of why she was kicked out. I have yet to hear from the Senate Caucus on why she was removed. My guess is that it was because she spent most of the legislative session working on the marriage amendment instead of a solution for the budget crisis.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the marriage amendment, but as a state employee, I was more concerned with keeping my job. A few days off didn't hurt, but the uncertainty of the whole thing was stressful.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger Republican Minnesota said...

Pawlenty's war on conservatives?! That's rich, you must have missed my two posts on Pawlenty's conservative record.

At 9:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bachmann's removal had nothing to do with opposing the cigarette tax increase. It was about her ineffectiveness as a leader and not communicating with her caucus. She didn't even talk to her fellow Senate Republicans to let them know she was going to offer the amendment to remove the cigarette tax from the bill. I think she panicked when she heard Krinkie offered the amendment and felt to cover herself for the 6th CD race she had better do the same.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Some_State_Delegate said...

Pointing to the legislative process is a weak attempt to whitewash the problem. The Governor has a bully pulpit. He could have talked about prioritizing spending. He didn't. The Governor stumped for increasing fees and expanding casinos early on. There was no talk about priorities.

Chester, remember it was DFL Senator Johnson who closed up shop two hours before the shutdown occurred. Remember it was the DFL who refused a lights on resolution that would have kept you working The DFL threw the state employees under the bus for partisan gain. But they'll vote for the DFL again in a heartbeat.

I can appreciate your frustration at the uncertainty of the situation, Chester. But don't take some Republicans to task for holding true to their beliefs and the wishes of their consituents.

My take on the shutdown is over at


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