The Legislative Process
Every week, your 8th District office gets phone
calls and emails about the status of a particular bill, or
even the generic, “Where is the bill on this legislative
concept?” questions. Based on some of those conversations, I
think it would be helpful to review the legislative process
in the Missouri General Assembly.
Prefiled bills in both the House and Senate receive their
bill numbers Dec. 1. Because the Senate refers bills in
order, many more bills are prefiled in the Senate so they
can have lower numbers, and be earlier in line for referral
to committee. Senate bills can continue to be introduced
until the sixtieth day of the legislative session. This year
that deadline was Feb. 27.
The next step for a bill is to be referred to committee.
That is done by the President Pro Tem in the Senate and the
Speaker in the House. The bill sponsor can request a certain
committee, but the final decision is up to the chamber’s
leader. Both bodies have rules for how bills are referred,
and how quickly.
Once assigned to a committee, the sponsor will request a
hearing for the legislation. Each committee chairman has
complete control over which bills to hear and in what order.
Since time is important, the earlier a bill is heard the
better chance it has to complete the whole process. When a
hearing takes place, a minimum of 24 hours’ notice is given
for supporters or opponents to come testify.
After the hearing, the committee chair will schedule the
bill to be heard in executive session, where a vote is held.
The vote can be the same day, but most chairs give members
at least a week to look at the bill. Often, it is many weeks
later, and some bills that get a hearing never get a vote.
If the bill receives a majority vote in committee, it is
then up to the chair to ask it be reported to the floor.
Then the chamber leader (President Pro Tem or Speaker) will
call for the bill to be heard on the floor when he is ready.
From there, the Majority Floor Leader will decide when to
debate the bill on the floor. All bills originally go on a
formal calendar where bills are heard in order. Often,
especially later in session, bills are put on an informal
calendar. Once there, they can be taken up in any order. The
floor leaders control not only what bills are heard, but how
much time they get for debate. This process is very
different in the House and Senate.
Once up for debate, a bill is first perfected, or reaches
the point where no more changes can be made. The perfection
vote is usually a voice vote. The next step is to third read
a bill, which requires a vote by roll call. If the bill
passes the roll call, it is sent to the other body. There,
the same process is repeated.
If the other chamber makes changes to the originating
chamber’s bill, the sponsor has two options. The first is to
accept the changes and take the bill up for one more vote,
which will send it to the governor. The second is to take
the bill to a conference committee to work out any
differences between the bodies. A conference committee is
made up of members of the Senate and House. Most conference
committees take their lead from the original sponsor of the
bill. Once they reach agreement, a final bill is sent back
to both chambers for one final vote.
There are many ways to change a bill. In committee, a full
bill substitute can be offered or individual amendments can
be offered. Once the bill gets to the floor, both
substitutes and amendments can be debated and added. The
same is true in the opposite body, both in their committee
process and on their floor. Those substitutes and amendments
can adjust the original language or add brand new sections.
With four realistic moments to change a bill, keeping a bill
“clean,” with no changes from start to finish, is very rare.
Here is where the process can get tricky. The same exact
language can be filed in an original House bill and an
original Senate bill. But, through the process, those two
bills may become very different pieces of legislation. It
isn’t rare at all that an elected official will end up
supporting one version, and opposing another.
If a constituent calls or emails our office regarding a
specific idea (i.e. Common Core, Medicaid reform) or a
specific bill number, the first thing we do is look up the
bill(s), find the current status, and do a quick review.
Since bills can change quickly, we like to update the
constituent. Often, something has changed which gives them
pause, or changes their perspective.
I regularly get asked, “Where do you stand on ‘such and
such?’” My answer is almost always that I won’t make a
decision until the bill is on the floor and has been
perfected. Only then can I be sure of the actual language on
which I will be voting. While I might support the concept in
the legislation, it isn’t until I know the details that I
can truly make a choice.
If you find the information in this
report valuable, please consider forwarding it to friends
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Senator Will Kraus serves Eastern
Jackson County in the 8th State Senatorial