Each year during the legislative session, the Louisiana legislature passes bills and adopts resolutions. Many of the bills that pass and become law play an important role in our communities and impact our daily lives. These bills determine our state’s priorities, TOPS eligibility, funding for early education programs, and matters of criminal justice reform including sentencing and court fines.
One important aspect of the legislative process is that there are opportunities for citizens to share their opinions with lawmakers at each step of the process. At committee hearings and in chambers, citizens may try to persuade elected leaders to vote in a way that they believe represents the views of their constituents. There are also grassroots activities in which citizens can participate to influence legislators.
Although the legislative process can be intimidating, it is important to understand it so that you may be an active participant and make a difference.
The legislature is comprised of two chambers of elected members: the House of Representatives and the Senate, which is also referred to as the upper chamber. A bill may start in either the House or the Senate with the exception of specific fiscal bills, which must originate in the House. The process is the same whether a bill is filed in the House or the Senate, just reversed. For the following example, the bill is introduced in the House.
Overview of how a bill becomes a law in Louisiana:
Step 1: A bill has its First Reading when it’s introduced in the House.
Step 2: The bill has its Second Reading and is referred to a committee. Committee agendas are released at least 24 hours prior to hearings and can be found on the legislature’s website.
Step 3: While the bill is being considered in committee, citizens may testify in support or opposition. They may also submit a card stating their position without testifying, or contact Representatives by phone or email to express their views.
Step 4: The committee must have a quorum (minimum number of people present) to vote and that quorum number varies depending upon the committee. The committee next votes on the bill, which must receive a simple majority of votes to pass. If it does not receive a majority of votes, or if it is a tie vote, the bill has failed. However, there are procedural ways to attempt to discharge the bill from committee or have it reconsidered later during the legislative session.
Step 5: If passed, the bill moves to the full House where it has its Third Reading and is debated by all 105 members of the House. All House members may vote on the final passage of the bill. It must receive a simple majority of votes to pass out of the House and at least 52 Representatives must vote on it. If it does not receive 52 votes and more yeas than nays, it has failed. There are procedural ways for bills that fail to be reconsidered. Some bills require a two-thirds vote for passage, such as proposed Constitutional Amendments.
Step 6: If passed, the bill moves from the House to the Senate, and Steps 1 to 5 are repeated by that chamber.
Note: The bill may be amended at any of the previous step. Amendments must be germane (relevant) to the bill but can dramatically impact the bill and its potential impacts.
Step 7: If the bill is passed by the Senate with no changes, it is sent directly to the Governor. If the bill is passed by the Senate but there were amendments, the House votes to accept or reject the amendments. If the amendments are rejected, the bill is sent to a Conference Committee. A Conference Committee is a group of three Representatives and three Senators that attempt to resolve differences. If the Conference Committee can reach an agreement, it issues a Conference Committee report which is voted on by both chambers. If approved, it is sent to the Governor. If the Conference Committee cannot come to an agreement, or if the agreed upon bill is not passed by both chambers, the bill has failed.
Step 8: When the Governor receives a bill, he has three options. He may sign the bill and it becomes law either upon signature of the Governor (the bill will contain this language) or upon the effective date of bills. He may veto the bill, which may be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate. Finally, he may choose to not sign nor veto the bill and, after a certain period of time, it becomes law.
How a bill becomes a law can be a complicated process – and even this brief overview illustrates why so few bills make it through all of the steps and actually become laws.
But what’s really incredible is that citizens like you have the opportunity to share their opinions with legislators and the Governor at every step of a bill’s progression! There are many ways to share your opinions: testifying in person at the state capitol, calling or emailing your legislator, submitting a card with your opinion while attending a committee or full chamber meeting, or even tagging them on social media. This year, the Louisiana legislature will meet from April 12 to June 10. We urge you to use your voice at every possible step to make sure your legislators hear directly from you on issues that are important to you and your family.
Go to www.stand.org/louisiana/email and sign up to receive weekly legislative updates from Stand Louisiana – we’ll be sure to include many opportunities for you to contact your legislators so they hear directly from their constituents!
For even more detail on how a bill becomes a law, check out this diagram from the Louisiana state legislature.