On an information sheet distributed on Capitol Hill titled, "How a Bill Becomes a Law," cartoonish characters use oversize magnifying glasses to scrutinize legislation.
They butt heads, clench fists, point their fingers, give the thumbs up or thumbs down sign and wave signs reading, "Nix," "Nay," "Yea," or "OK" to vote.While real-life lawmakers may not resort to magnifying glasses to review bills or dramatic gestures and signs to make their feelings known, they will follow the same legislative process as their comic counterparts.
But tactics often come into play during the legislative process that sometimes turn the seemingly simple 20-step procedure outlined on the information sheet into an intricate series of maneuverings.
For anyone interested in following a particular issue through the Legislature, knowledge of the basic process is essential. The ins and outs of politics, however, are much more difficult to track.
Officially, bills are drafted by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel at the request of a legislator. The idea may be his or hers or may have come from a constituent.
Lobbyists, too, have plenty of ideas for legislators. They are paid to represent the interests of their clients and often suggest new laws, changes in existing laws or the scrapping of proposed legislation.
Sometimes, the constituents or lobbyists themselves actually write a bill just the way they want it and although it may be reviewed by the legislative office, no changes are made.
Bills can be introduced in either the House or the Senate. Both sides of the Legislature refer new bills to their respective rules committees. The committeesare supposed to decide where to refer the bill.
Sometimes, though, members of the rules committee decide in their closed-door session not to send a bill anywhere. Forcing a bill out of the rules committees is considered next to impossible.
While all legislative committees are stacked in favor of the majority party, Republicans outnumber Democrats on the rules committees by a ratio of about 2-to-1.
That clout enables the GOP leadership to keep any bill, they consider too beneficial to the Democrats from being debated in public, preventing the minority party from potential political gains.
Beyond partisian politics, the rules committees also serve another useful political purpose because unlike the rest of the legislative committees, their proceedings are secret.
Because of that secrecy, lawmakers can safely propose legislation they don't intend to support just to please their constituents. All they have to do is make sure their bills are stalled in the rules committee.
They may even publicy complain that their bills never got a fair hearing, privately thanking their collegues for getting them out of what could have been a sticky situation.
The recommendations that come from standing committees are sent to the floor of the house where the bill originated and was heard. There are a total of three votes or "readings" of a bill in each house.
In the House of Representatives, the first reading comes when a bill is introduced; the second, when lawmakers are asked to approve a committee recommendation on a bill; and the third, when they are asked to approve the bill.
In the Senate, the difference is that the vote on the standing committee report is not considered a reading. It is followed by a second and third reading or vote on the bill itself.
Bills must be approved by both houses of the Legislature before they are sent to the governor for his signature. If there is any difference in the bills passed by the two sides, there must be a reconciliation effort.
That effort takes place in a conference committee composed of three House members and three Senate members.