The legislative session is underway. This is a short session which means there is very little time to stop some very horrible bills. That is because the session is structured with dates that move bills along in the process at an incredible speed and at the same time, will quickly stop the process for many of the good bills. Because of the short timeline, bills often fly through the legislature before we even know they are there. This email will explain the process, so you will be better able to contact your legislators at the correct time.
The first thing you need to know is how to identify where the bill is in the process. It is helpful to know if the bill is a House Bill or a Senate Bill. It matters a great deal. All bills with a number in the 1000s and the 2000s are House bills. All 5000 – 6000 numbers are Senate Bills. 8000s are reserved for Resolutions (that do not have the force of law) and Constitutional Amendments – sort of two extremes of legislative action. You will see where the knowledge of these numbers helps as I explain the process.
Every bill starts out in the chamber where it is introduced. House bills in the House and Senate bills in the Senate. That seems obvious, but you need to think about that when communicating with your legislator. With thousands of bills going through the process, senators aren’t even looking at house bills at the beginning, and vice versa. They just cannot take the time to study bills in the other chamber when those bills may never make it out of the other chamber. With over a thousand bills going through each chamber, legislators must focus only on the bills that are before them. Therefore, if you are in the first part of session, you should be directing your letters and calls to on the legislator in the “house of origin” – 1000-2000 numbers to Representatives and 5000-6000 to Senators.
Every session will have cut-off dates. I will use the dates this year as an example. On February 11th, we will reach the first cut-off. There is one cut-off that takes place earlier, but I’ll address that some other time. On Feb. 11th, all bills must have been heard and voted out of their respective committees in their house of origin (1000-2000s in the House and 5000-6000s in the Senate) or they are almost certainly dead. The only exceptions are the bills that have to be passed for the budget (labeled NTIB, or Necessary To Implement the Budget) – those are alive until the bitter end. This means that you need to focus on your representatives regarding all of the house bills and senators regarding the senate bills until Feb. 11th.
After the 11th cut-off date, the chambers go to their floors full time to debate and pass bills until the next cut-off on Feb 19th. During these 8 days, the reps and senators will be debating the bills that have made it out of committee. Again, they usually focus only on the bills in their own chamber, so you need to communicate with your legislators accordingly. After the 19th, all bills that have not passed out of their house of origin are not likely to pass this year (unless they are NTIB).
After Feb. 19th, the process flips. The Senate will then take up the house bills that have been voted off the floor of the House and vice versa. So now, you need to find out what bills are still alive and work with the opposite chamber. The 1000-2000 bills will all be in the Senate, and the 5000-6000 bills will be in the House. Those are the legislators you communicate with now regarding a bill you are interested in.
March 2nd will be the next cut-off. All bills that are not passed out of all the committees by that time are not likely to pass this year (unless they are NTIB). The next cut-off date is March 6th which will be the date that all bills must have passed on both chamber floors. The last 6 days are consumed with budget negotiations (I’ll cover that some other time) and bill reconciliation.
Bill reconciliation – Even if a bill passes through both chambers and has been approved and voted off the floor by both chambers, the process isn’t necessarily done. Most bills have amendments added to the bills by both chambers, and those amendments are often very different. The last 6 days are filled with negotiations between the House and the Senate to see if they can agree to one version of the bill. If they cannot, the bill doesn’t pass. They will send the bill back and forth between the two chambers, asking the other to either receded or agree to the other’s amendments. If they agree, the bill will pass – otherwise, it’s dead.
As you can see, the process is complicated, but those cut-off dates give you a clue as to where you need to send those letters and phone calls. Now that I’ve explained the process, I’m going to let you know that the rules can always be broken, and the process can always be circumvented. Here are some things to keep in mind –
• No bill is truly dead until the last gavel goes down. I’ve seen dead bills brought right to the floor for a vote on the last day of session, if the majority wants it badly enough.
• If a bill is a priority for the majority, they will sometimes bring it to the floor early in the session, get it passed, and send it on to the other chamber – the other chamber may not wait until the cut-off to send it through its process and on to the Governor for a signature. One example is the sex education bill. The chambers have floor session for a few hours each week, even before the cut-off. They passed the sex education bill in the Senate this past Wed. The bill is already in the House, but a public hearing has not yet been scheduled. If a bill is controversial, and you know it has passed one chamber, you need to go to the following web page, enter the number, find out where it is in the process (see my previous newsletter on using leg.wa.gov), and act accordingly. Look under “Bill History.” The last entry will tell you where the bill is (in my example of the sex ed bill, SB 5935, it is currently in the House Education Committee, even though it’s a senate bill). Here is the link to look up where a bill is in the process – https://app.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/
• NTIB (Necessary To Implement the Budget) – If any bill has a fee or tax in it, it is NTIB and is not dead until the very last second, so if you are interested in one of those, understand that it can pass both chambers in a matter of hours in the dark of the night during the last day of session, if the majority wants it. Most of the 12 tax bills you know from last year were passed that way – without hearings and without notices.
Use your resources effectively. That means figuring out where a bill is in the process and figuring out where you need to focus your communication. With enough people doing this, a difference can be made.