How a Bill Becomes a Law

 

Connecticut’s State Capitol and Legislative Office Building are now partially open due to COVID-19. The legislature is still in recess. Many legislators and staff are still working from home, but they are returning calls and emails. Most committees and taskforces are still holding online meetings. Check the webpage or the Legislative Bulletin for details on attending meetings virtually. We will update this site again as things change.

The beginning

  • Bills can be proposed by individual members of the legislature or by committees. The legislators 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.
  • Your bill needs a Champion. Advocates can ask members to sponsor a bill, even offering legislative language for the bill.
  • Bills are then referred to the appropriate legislative committee based on the topic of the bill.
  • Committees can also propose, or “raise” bills. Often one or more legislators’ bills are converted into a committee bill.

Off to committees

  • There are 26 legislative committees that consider bills. Each committee has dedicated staff to manage the work. Most have offices in the Legislative Office Building. Each committee also has dedicated staff 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.
  • Each committee has four leaders -- a Senate and a House Co-Chairs and a Senate and House Ranking Member. Chairs and Ranking Members are chosen by the leadership of the majority and minority caucuses, respectively, in each house.
  • Advocates should meet with all four leaders of the relevant committee to discuss their bill. Make your case and ask for their support. If the leaders have concerns, try to accommodate their issues with new language. See Visiting with policymakers
  • The Co-Chairs, and sometimes Ranking Members with assistance from staff, meet in private to decide, or “screen”, all the bills referred and raised by the committee. In those meetings they decide which bills will receive a public hearing.
  • Committee staff conduct the public hearings, generally in the middle of the session. Go to How to testify at a public hearing
  • The leaders then decide, in private, which bills 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 legislator who sponsored the bill. Sometimes the bill’s language is changed or “substituted” at the meeting. The public does not have an opportunity to speak in Committee meetings but you can watch. Advocates can offer a committee member “substitute language” for the bill to clarify or address concerns.
  • The committee then votes at the meeting on any proposed amendments or “substitute language” and then on the full bill, as amended. Experienced advocates have contacted all the committee members before the committee meeting, asking for their support, and counted the votes. Because members are often on more than one committee or have outside commitments, votes are typically left open until the end of the day. You can check back with committee staff to see how members voted. The vote tally will be published online as well.
  • The next step for a bill is to receive a Joint Favorable (JF) report written by committee staff. The report includes the vote tally and a summary of supporting and opposing testimony. Advocates who have submitted written testimony may 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 when it comes to the full House or Senate.
  • The committee must vote on each bill by their JF Day deadline or it does not 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 at a committee meeting to move on to the calendar of either the House or Senate.

Onto the floor

  • 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.
  • The leaders of the two houses decide which bills on the calendar will “Go” or be voted on during each session day. The House “Go list” is available on-line. 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 bill’s sponsor.
  • 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 completely 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 under the bill’s webpage.
  • 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.
  • 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 that passes 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.

You're not done yet

  • After passage, the bill goes to the other chamber for a vote. It can be amended there and may be debated, just as in the first chamber. If there are any changes, the bill must go back to the first chamber for another vote on the new version. Any bill has to pass both chambers in exactly the same form.
  • 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 post-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. The ceremony may not happen on the day the bill is actually signed. Legislators and advocates who worked hard on the bill are often invited, get their picture taken with the Governor, and get 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 rarely happens.

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.

Related articles

Engaging policymakers

Legislators – who are they?

The importance of legislative staff

Champions

How to testify at a public hearing

Navigating the Capitol and Legislative Office Building

How to work with a lobbyist

How to track a bill

How to search statutes

Links

CT-N Connecticut legislative TV network

List of legislative committees

Fiscal notes

Bill analyses

Legislative bulletins

House Go lists

Glossary of legislative terms

Office of Legislative Research

Office of Fiscal Analysis

How a bill becomes a law in Connecticut from the CT League of Women Voters

Legislative ToolBox from CT-N

Directions to the CT State Capitol and Legislative Office Building