Q&A on the Status of Legislation

The legislation committee of the LWV of the Cape Cod Area asked a number of questions about the status of legislation at this mid-point of the legislative session, and we thought other Leagues and members might be interested in the answers, so Cape Cod’s questions, plus answers from Nancy Brumback, Legislative Action Committee chair, are below:

If a bill was filed last January and assigned to a committee but no hearing has been held, what are its chances of advancing?

All bills that were filed and given a number have to have a public hearing.  You can find the current hearing schedule here once the legislature reconvenes in January. Each hearing usually covers many bills. When you click on a bill number on the list of bills we are following on our website, under the “bill history” tab there will be a date if a bill has been scheduled for a hearing.  Most bills have had hearings at this point.

If a bill was accepted, assigned to a committee, had a hearing but no further action was taken, what are its chances of advancing?

Relatively few bills have actually come out of the joint committees yet. This is the point in the legislative session when the joint committees are doing their actual committee work. Committee members are discussing all the bills before the committee, considering the testimony both from the hearings and written testimony, and in many cases, drafting new language for the bills based on testimony. They often combine several bills on one topic into a single bill. Almost always, a bill will come out of the joint committee with a new number, reflecting changes the committee has made. If you enter the old bill number on the legislature website, under that same “bill history” tab it will note if the bill has a new number.

The process of joint committees acting on bills will pick up significantly in January. With some exceptions, bills must be reported out of joint committee by Feb. 7, otherwise they are no longer active in this session. If a bill is reported out favorably, it moves on toward a vote in the House or Senate. If a bill’s history tab notes that the bill was “referred to study,” that means it won’t be reported out of committee and is dead for this session.

Does the number of co-sponsors have any influence on the advancement of a bill? 

Yes, to an extent. Close to 10,000 bills were filed this session.  Ones with very few co-sponsors are less likely to go anywhere, in part because of the sheer volume of bills. The leadership of the House and the Senate decides which bills will actually get to the floor for a vote, and they are influenced by how much interest the members of their chambers have in a bill

When is the best time to advocate for a bill? 

There’s no bad time to advocate. But the stage we are in now is important. At this point, we need people to tell their own senators and representatives that they support a bill, so those legislators in turn will go to the leadership and say they have received a lot of public interest in a specific bill. When a bill finally is coming to the House or Senate floor for a vote, it’s time to contact your legislators and ask them to vote for (or in some cases, against) the bill.

How many times should someone contact their legislator about a bill?

Once is good, five times is better! The idea is to make a legislator aware that the public is interested in a specific bill. The more calls and emails that come in about the bill, the better. When a bill is finally coming up for a vote, the legislator’s staff is tallying how many people call on each side. So whenever you see a notice in our action newsletter or an action alert asking League members to call about a bill, that’s a key time to do it.

How can you gauge whether a bill is progressing?

Check with the Legislative Action Committee specialist for the bill you are following.