Where Did That Bill Come From? Originating Bills Explained

A stack of proposed legislation during the 2019 session. Photo by Perry Bennett, Legislative Photographer.

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB

We’ve talked before about the incredible amount of influence committees have in the legislative process. One of the most interesting things that committees can do is also one of the most difficult things to keep track of: the power to originate bills.

A bill that originates in committee is a bill that is drafted by committee attorneys at the request of a member or members of that committee. Bills don’t often originate in committee early in the Session since legislators are still allowed to introduce them to the full House or Senate. After deadlines to introduce bills have passed, however, originating a bill in committee is the only way to get a new bill started in the legislative process.

Two considerations to keep in mind about this type of bill:

  • On one hand, having the power to originate bills allows legislators to introduce bills that might address gaps or clear up confusion in the State Code that were brought to light as a result of discussions about bills under review.
  • On the other hand, introducing a bill in committee, rather than on the floor of either the House or Senate means that even if it is listed on a committee’s agenda- which is how I find out about this kind of bill- it can’t be searched on the regular bill status tab until it passes out of its originating committee and receives a bill number.

So, at the time I’m writing this article, I can read the text of SB 664 – a bill that authorizes senior judges and magistrate judges to perform marriages – because, even though it originated in Senate Judiciary, it passed out of committee, was given a bill number, and the text was added to the website.

But, I can not read the text of Originating Bill 3 – Creating a Local Unincorporated Municipality Board – which has originated in the Senate Economic Development Committee but has not been passed out of that committee yet.

This poses two challenges, both of which leave me with some questions.

  • First, if citizens can’t read the text of a bill, they can’t know for sure what that bill would do if enacted. How can citizens know whether to support or oppose a bill if they aren’t sure what it would do?
  • Second, if citizens aren’t watching committee agendas closely, some bills might go for a few days and a first critical round of discussion and amendments before anyone notices that they’ve been introduced at all.

 

Not only does this make it incredibly important for us to continue watching all that’s happening at the Capitol, it also makes me wonder if there might be a better way to provide citizens with access to information about bills that originate in committees.

More information means a better, more well rounded discussion; it means West Virginians have more opportunities to speak out for and against bills that will impact their lives and communities; and it keeps our legislative system working the way that it should.

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