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
- 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.
- Advocates can ask members to sponsor a bill, even offering
legislative language for the bill. See Proper
Care and Feeding of a Legislative Champion.
- Bills are then referred to the appropriate legislative
by issue area.
- There are 24 legislative committees that consider bills. Each
committee has dedicated staff to manage the work. Most have offices
Legislative Office Building (LOB). Each committee also has dedicated analysts from
Office of Fiscal Analysis, the
Office of Legislative Research
, and the
Legislative Commissioner's Office. There is often staff from the four
assigned to each
committee. See The Importance of Legislative
- Each committee has a Senate and a House chair. Chairs are chosen
by the leadership of the majority
in each house.
- 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.
- The Co-chairs, in private, with assistance from staff, will decide
which of the bills referred to their committee will receive a public
- Committee staff conduct the public hearings, generally in the
middle of the session. Go to How to testify at
a public hearing.
- The Co-chairs then decide, in private, which bills that have been
heard to schedule for a committee vote.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bills that pass out of committee and are considered by either
house of the
get both a fiscal note
Office of Fiscal Analysis
from the Office of
Legislative Research. The
describes the fiscal
impact on the state and municipalities if the bill passed into law.
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.
- The leaders of the two houses decide which bills on the calendar
will "Go" or be voted on
during that session day. The House "
" is available
on-line at http://www.cga.state.ct.us.
The Senate announces its Go list at the beginning of each session.
- 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.
- Legislators can propose
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 http://www.cga.state.ct.us.
- 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
- 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
", 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Once it passes both the House and Senate, the bill goes to the
governor for his approval.
- 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.
- 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.
- If the Governor vetoes the bill, the legislature must vote by a
two-thirds majority in each house to overturn the veto. It never
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?
Letter Raising a Concern
Letter Opposing a Proposal
Letter Supporting a Proposal
Sample Fact Sheet 1
Sample Fact Sheet 2
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
Tips No Advocate should forget
Visiting with a Policymaker
Calling a Policymaker
Writing to Policymakers
Classic Advocate Mistakes
Connecticut's Budget Process
If you only have 5 minutes to
make a difference
Freedom of Information
How to Create Fact Sheets and
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