How do you know what bills will be brought up for a vote? I was asked that question yesterday, so I thought now was a good time to discuss that issue. It’s not easy – it’s complicated. Surprise!!
Each bill goes through a process to get passed. I’ll name each step and tell you how to check on a bill at each step. It’s important to go through this right now, because we are at an important point in the Session, as I will explain near the end.
- Bill is introduced and a hearing is scheduled. Follow the dates that hearings are scheduled, read the bill, read the bill report, find out how much money it will cost, and see the amendments proposed at https://app.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/.
- After a bill is exec’d out of committee, it is passed to Rules where it is one step away from a floor vote. Again, you can see that on the bill history page. Rules Committee meetings are not held on a schedule. They are scheduled when the majority leadership needs to get some bills to the floor to vote on. There is a bit of info here.
- After a bill passes rules, it is ready to go to the floor for a vote. How do you tell what is going on the floor? You check out the floor calendars. Go here for the Senate, and here for the House.
- After a bill is passed off the floor in its house of origin, it goes to the other chamber and goes through the exact same process.
How do you read the floor calendars that I linked to above? First, you need to know that all the bills that are on the floor calendar are bills that can come up for a vote at any time they are on the floor. You cannot really tell too far ahead of time which those will be. That is decided on by the majority leadership (which is the Democrat Leadership right now). You can also see those that have been voted on in the past day. There is a bill number and a very short description (which often doesn’t tell you anything at all about what the bill really does). You can click on the bill number and it will take you to the page where you can read the bill report. It also has a column that lists the Chair/Sponsor. The sponsor, of course, is the Senator that introduced the bill. The Chair is the Chair of the Committee that passed the bill out (step 2 above). While the bill passed out by a majority vote, the Chair really has all the power as to which bills come out and which do not.
If a bill has been voted off the floor, you can see that on the floor calendar page, as well. Under the column “floor action” you will see the vote count. Click on that, and you will see the names of all the members who voted yea and those who voted nay on the bill. A good way to tell that a bill is controversial is to look at the vote count. For instance, you will see that the bill SB 5185 that was heard yesterday was a very split vote.
I mentioned that this is an important point in the session. We go through different phases as we go through the entire session. We have a few weeks where we are in a schedule that is filled almost completely with committee hearings. After the cutoff, when bill have to be passed out of committee, we enter a phase where we are on the floor all day every day, passing bills. That is when you need to be checking out that floor calendar several times a day. When you click on the floor calendar link while we are on the floor, you will see a bill highlighted – that is the bill they are debating at the moment. You can watch TVW to see the debate. There are a couple of nuances to this, because we still have a couple of committees meeting in the afternoons this week, but after this week, we will be on the floor all day every day until the 2nd week of March.
After the next cut-off date, we will go back to committee schedule again where we hear bills that come from the opposite chamber. Again, we repeat the process. The cutoff dates are very important. After cut-off, the bills that didn’t make it out of the process before the cutoff date are likely dead. I say likely, because there are ways to resurrect dead bills. I like to say that nothing is sure till the last gavel goes down. The cut-off for all policy bills (those that do not have to do with the budgets) was this past Monday. This week, there is floor session all morning and budget committees all afternoon. The cut-off for all the budget committees is next Monday. Then we are on the floor all day every day. Now is when you need to watch that floor calendar. That’s all I have time for today. Cheers!