How Legislation Forms, and How to Track its Progress

Voter Info | September 7, 2015

Identifying a Policy
This is the starting point in the process, and the first point at which the citizen has a chance to have a say in the writing or rewriting of law. Ideas for legislation come from many sources: a legislator may have an idea; one of his or her constituents may point out a need; a state official may propose a change; or, an organization or business may espouse a policy that requires a change in existing law. There is no monopoly on ideas for legislation.

Transforming Policy Idea into a Bill
Once a policy for a new law has been settled on, it must be put into legislative language or bill form before it can be considered by the Legislature. Bill drafting requires a specialized type of legal training and is usually done by the staff of the Legislative Bill Drafting Commission.

No proposed policy may be enacted in law unless it has been introduced and voted on by the Legislature in bill form. With the exception of the Executive Budget, which is submitted directly by the Governor, bills can be introduced only by legislators or by standing committees of the Senate and Assembly.

On introduction a bill is assigned a bill number, sent to the appropriate committee and published in an online database where the public can review the legislation.

Committee Action
Just as we engage specialists for specialized problems such as legal or medical advice, so does the Legislature engage specialists to study legislation. These specialists are members of Standing Committees who evaluate bills and decide whether to “report” them (send them) to the Senate or Assembly floor for a vote by the full membership. For each committee, a committee agenda is issued each week listing the bills and issues that committee will handle the following week. Committees often hold public hearings on bills to gather the widest possible range of opinion.

The committee stage is the second point at which citizen contribution is important. An expression of opinion on a proposed bill can be sent directly to the committee chairman, or it can be sent to your local Senator for relay to the committee members.

The Calendar
Each bill has to be on a legislator’s desks for three days before it can be voted on, unless the governor authorizes and the Legislature accepts a Message of Necessity for a certain bill. When bills reach the Order of Third Reading, they are eligible to be voted on. If the bill sponsor realizes at this point that his bill may not have enough support for passage, or has a defect which may require an amendment, he may ask that the bill be laid aside, returned to committee for further study, or “starred” (placed in an inactive file).

By communicating your views on a particular issue to your Senator, you have another opportunity at this point to participate in the lawmaking process.

Floor Amendments
A bill can be amended at any time before it is voted on. The sponsor of the bill, for example, can submit the changes to the Bill Drafting Commission; the bill, now in its amended form, retains its original number, but amended versions are denoted by a letter suffix A, B, C, D and so on for each time the bill is altered.

Passing a Bill
After explanation, discussion or debate, a vote is taken. After passing one house by a majority vote in support, the bill is delivered to other house for consideration.

If the bill is approved by the other house without amendment, it is delivered to the Governor where he chooses to sign or veto the bill.

A bill can be amended in either house anywhere along the legislative process before it is delivered to the governor. It is very important to note, however, that in order for a bill to become law an exact version of the bill – word for word – must be approved in the Senate and Assembly.

The Governor
After being delivered to the governor, he has 10 days (not counting Sundays) to sign or veto bills passed by the Legislature.

At this point citizens have another opportunity to express their position on a bill. In fact, that expression can influence the governor’s decision whether or not to support a bill.

Signed bills become law,while vetoed bills do not. However, the Governor’s failure to sign or veto a bill within the 10-day period means that it becomes law automatically. Vetoed bills are returned to the house that first passed them, together with a statement of the reason for their disapproval. A vetoed bill can become law if two-thirds of the members of each house vote to override the Governor’s veto.

Citizen comment is an important part of the entire legislative process. Public opinion often affects the shape of a bill as well as its eventual success or failure. Remember, your input can play a crucial role in determining how a bill becomes a law.

This document is your manual to the legislative process as it functions in the New York State Senate. It is intended to help you understand how an idea is transformed into a law and the part that you as a citizen can play in this process.

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Keep informed by checking up on the bills most important to you online.
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