The process of going from an idea to a bill
The Friday before last was the final day that potential bills were able to be introduced into our afternoon committees in the House. This deadline resulted in a flurry of activity among the legislators, and a group of exasperatedcommittee secretaries who were having to repeatedly redo agendas for that Friday’s meetings.
This initial step is called a “print hearing” and involves the committee determining whether or not an idea has enough merit to become a bill. Although most ideas usually are introduced to print, this step is an important part of the legislative process and helps to give legislators a brief introduction to a proposal.
When someone has an idea for legislation, the first stop is the Legislative Services Office. LSO is the department responsible for the drafting of all legislation. The bill drafting section of LSO is comprised of five legislative drafters who each have different areas of expertise. Legislators can go directly to LSO to have legislation drafted, but others must receive permission from a legislator to work with LSO.
After the idea has been presented to the drafter, what is produced is an initial draft of the proposed legislation that is the sole property of the person requesting the draft. Usually, this draft is then circulated among select individuals to gauge interest, and to receive feedback from interested parties.
Once a draft is written how the sponsor wants, the sponsor then requests for an “RS” number to be applied to the draft. This RS number, and its associated language, is what is first presented to the germane committee at the print hearing. If an RS is not introduced to print, it effectively disappears from the system.
Upon introduction of an RS, the RS is sent to the Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee for printing, and then goes to the Office of the Chief Clerk where LSO applies a bill number to it. Once a bill number has been applied, the bill is then “read across the desk” of the chief clerk during the floor session and directed to the germane committee for a full hearing. If the germane committee votes in favor of the bill, it will then be placed on the “reading calendar” for voting by the entire legislative body.
Before we can vote on a bill, it is required that it be “read across the desk” three times. The first is during the ninth order of business which is the “introduction and first reading of bills,” the second is during the 10th order of business, and finally the 11th order which is when we vote.
Usually a member asks for unanimous consent to forego the final reading so that we can expedite debate. This is done with the understanding that members have read the Bill themselves in order to satisfy the requirement of three readings. Once a Bill passes off the House Floor, it is then transferred across the Rotunda to the Senate to begin the Committee process over again, with the exception of drafting and the RS.
There is one other path to having an idea gain a bill number which is drafting what is called a “personal bill.” This method involves a legislator going to LSO to have an idea drafted directly into a bill, bypassing the initial screening process that is necessary for good legislation. This strategy is generally applied to controversial, and underdeveloped, ideas that do not have much chance of being approved by the Legislature, and, while it does give a legislator something to show their constituents, these bills will rarely move forward because they are seen to have circumvented the committee process.
There is tradition, formality, and purpose involved in this process and it is designed to provide the opportunity for proper vetting of legislation and sharing of ideas with the hope of producing legislation that benefits everyone in the state.
Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, represents Bonner and Boundary counties in the Idaho House of Representatives, District 1B. He can be reached at SDixon@house.idaho.gov.