BY KATELYN CAMPBELL, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT POLICY VISTA, THE HUB
Last week, we introduced you to Senate Bill 59 (if you’re just tuning in or need a refresher, start with this article). Here’s our first update about the bill’s progress as we explain how a bill becomes a law.
Like many of the 986 bills introduced so far this Session, SB 59 has been referred to a committee, the Senate Committee on Government Organization. At this point however, it has yet to be put on the committee’s agenda. Until it is, it will sit in the hopper waiting for consideration.
A common question about the Legislature is why it takes so long for some bills to make it onto a committee agenda. The answer: it has to do with the way committees set their priorities.
Committees exist to break down the workload of each Legislative body. They allow more time for detailed consideration by legislators than would be possible if every one of the thousands of bills introduced each Session was discussed by all members of each house on the floor.
Representatives are appointed to committees by the head of their respective house – the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate. Appointments are often made based on a legislator’s interests but can also be influenced by which priorities the Speaker or Senate President share with a prospective chair or member.
Before a committee convenes, the chair or co-chairs set an agenda for each meeting. Because so many bills are referred to each committee, chairs have to prioritize which ones they’ll evaluate. This choice is often influenced by the priorities of the majority party, the needs of the Speaker or Senate President, and by the interests of committee members.
If a bill doesn’t provide a strong appeal to any committee member’s interests in their district or statewide, the bill can be put off to the side, sometimes until it’s too late.
It’s not uncommon for a bill to get stuck in limbo, but with some work, it’s possible to pry it out. Here are four steps citizens can take to help get a bill moving:
- Check which committees the bill has been assigned to. You can find this out from a quick search on the Legislature’s Bill Status website.
- See who’s on the committee and where they’re from. Committee listings for the Senate are available here and for the House, here. You can click on each committee member’s name to find out which district they represent and what types of bills they’ve sponsored in the past.
- E-mail, call in, or schedule a meeting to make your case. Let members of the committee know that West Virginians from their district and around the state care about a bill that’s before them, and that they’d like to get it on the agenda. If you’d like help scheduling an in-person meeting with a legislator, get in touch with the Hub’s Policy Coordinator, Taylor Bennett.
- Contact the Speaker or the Senate President’s office. If your bill just isn’t moving, organizing a large group of concerned citizens to contact the appropriate head of house’s office can convince them that the bill should be put on the committee’s agenda.
Stay tuned for more updates about how a bill really becomes a law throughout the rest of the 2018 Legislative Session.
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