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How a Bill Becomes a Law

I should apologize, perhaps for the style of this bill. I dislike the verbose and intricate style of the modern English statutes... You however can easily correct this bill to the taste of my brother lawyers, by making every other word a "said" or "aforesaid" and saying everything over two or three times so that nobody but we of the craft can untwist the diction, and find out what it means.

-- Thomas Jefferson, 1817

  1. Bills can be proposed by individual members of the legislature or by committees. The legislator(s) who propose a bill are called its "sponsors". Other legislators can "sign onto" a bill as co-sponsors to indicate their support. Bills can only be proposed early in the session.
  2. Advocates can ask members to sponsor a bill, even offering legislative language for the bill. See Proper Care and Feeding of a Legislative Champion.
  3. Bills are then referred to the appropriate legislative committee by issue area.
  4. There are 24 legislative committees that consider bills. Each committee has dedicated staff to manage the work. Most have offices in the Legislative Office Building (LOB). Each committee also has dedicated analysts from the Office of Fiscal Analysis, the Office of Legislative Research , and the Legislative Commissioner's Office. There is often staff from the four caucuses assigned to each committee. See The Importance of Legislative Staff.
  5. Each committee has a Senate and a House chair. Chairs are chosen by the leadership of the majority caucus in each house.
  6. Advocates should meet with both chairs of the committee to discuss their bill. Make your case and ask for their support. If the chairs have concerns, try to accommodate their issues with new language. See Meeting with policymakers.
  7. The Co-chairs, in private, with assistance from staff, will decide which of the bills referred to their committee will receive a public hearing.
  8. Committee staff conduct the public hearings, generally in the middle of the session. Go to How to testify at a public hearing.
  9. The Co-chairs then decide, in private, which bills that have been heard to schedule for a committee vote.
  10. Bills scheduled for a vote are put on the agenda of a committee meeting. At the meeting, members have an opportunity to ask questions of the "sponsor" of the bill. Sometimes the bill's language is changed or "substituted" at the meeting. Advocates can offer a committee member substitute language before the meeting.
  11. The committee then votes on any proposed amendments or "substitute language" and then on the full bill, as amended. Experienced advocates have contacted all the committee members, asking for their support, and counted the votes.
  12. The bill generally receives a Joint Favorable (JF) report written by committee staff. The report includes the vote tally and a description of the supporting and opposing testimony. Advocates who have submitted written testimony often find their language included in the JF report. Other legislators often read the JF report on a bill to determine if they will vote for it.
  13. The committee must vote on each bill by their JF Day or it cannot move on in the process. JF Days vary for each committee.
  14. Bills are often referred to other, relevant committees for votes there. Bills only receive one public hearing in the original committee. A bill must pass each committee to which it is referred to move on to the calendar of either the House or Senate.
  15. Bills that pass out of committee and are considered by either house of the General Assembly get both a fiscal note from the Office of Fiscal Analysis and a bill analysis from the Office of Legislative Research. The fiscal note describes the fiscal impact on the state and municipalities if the bill passed into law. The bill analysis describes the history of the issue and the proposed solution in the bill. Legislators read both these summaries closely in determining their vote on a bill.
  16. The leaders of the two houses decide which bills on the calendar will "Go" or be voted on during that session day. The House " Go list " is available on-line at The Senate announces its Go list at the beginning of each session.
  17. A bill is "called" for a vote by the leader of that house and debate on the bill begins. First, the sponsor of the bill describes it and makes the case for passage. Legislators can then pose questions to the sponsor of the bill.
  18. Legislators can propose amendments to any bill that is called. These amendments have to be "germane" - a term that becomes less and less meaningful as the session wears on. Amendments can make small changes to bills, can "strike" or delete everything in the bill and make it meaningless, or strike everything and replace it with totally new language. This is often used to resurrect another bill that died in committee or to get something passed which never had a public hearing. Sometimes a "poisonous" amendment (that no one wants a vote on) is filed to keep a bill from passing. Advocates need to be very watchful of amendments filed on their bills. Amendment language is available on-line at
  19. Amendments can receive either a voice vote of whoever is in the chamber at the time, where the leader of the house at the time judges if the measure passed, or a roll call vote where every member votes by pressing a button on their desk. There is an art to all of this.
  20. After all debate, members have called any amendments they choose to, and the amendments have been voted on - the final bill comes up for a vote. If the bill is not controversial, it may go on the " consent calendar ", a group of bills voted on together in a group to save time and usually pass unanimously. If the bill does not go "on consent", it receives a roll call vote.
  21. In a roll call vote, the clerk calls for the vote through a PA system in the Capitol. Members hurry back to their chairs to vote by pressing either a green (yes) or red (no) button on their desks. Advocates can see the votes on a board in the chamber.
  22. After passage, the bill goes to the other chamber for a vote. It can be amended there and be debated just as in the first chamber. If there are any changes, the bill must go back to the first chamber. A bill has to pass both chambers in exactly the same form to move on.
  23. Once it passes both the House and Senate, the bill goes to the governor for his approval.
  24. The Governor has five days during session and fifteen days out of session after he receives it (it takes awhile to wend its way through the offices first, so you can't count from the day it passes) to either sign it into law, veto it, or let the clock run out and the bill becomes law without his signature.
  25. The Governor may have a "bill signing" ceremony for important bills. Legislators and advocates who worked hard on the bill are often invited, get their picture taken with the Governor, and get a signed copy of the bill and a pen.
  26. If the Governor vetoes the bill, the legislature must vote by a two-thirds majority in each house to overturn the veto. It never happens.

For more detail on the legislative process, go to How a Bill Becomes a Law and a Guide to State Government, both by the CT League of Women Voters.

To see the legislature and its committees in session, go to CT-N, the legislature's TV network. CT-N broadcasts are replayed across the state on local cable access channels.


Leading or Chairing Task Forces, Committees and other planning groups set in statute

In Separated by Velvet Ropes published 5/25/03 in the Hartford Courant's Northeast magazine, Kevin Rennie describes the culture and frenzy at the end of the legislative session. A former Senator, his description is vivid and accurate.

Navigating the Legislative Process

How to testify at a Public Hearing

How to work with a lobbyist

Legislators - Who are They?

Sample Letter Raising a Concern

Sample Letter Opposing a Proposal

Sample Letter Supporting a Proposal

Sample Fact Sheet 1

Sample Fact Sheet 2

Sample Written Testimony

Rules and customs for navigating within the Legislative Office Building and the State Capitol

Directions to the Legislative Office Building and the State Capitol

The Proper Care and Feeding of a Champion

Tips No Advocate should forget

Visiting with a Policymaker

Calling a Policymaker

Writing to Policymakers

Classic Advocate Mistakes

Connecticut's Budget Process

Effective Communications

If you only have 5 minutes to make a difference

Freedom of Information

How to Create Fact Sheets and Action Alerts

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