What happens when multiple bills are passed about the same topic?

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB

With the thousands of bills introduced in the legislature each year, it’s a fair bet that some of those bills propose similar policy solutions. So, what happens when more than one bill addresses the same topic?

Simply put, the bill that passes last – or closest to the end of the legislative session – is the one that changes the state code. We’ll get to how this plays out in practice, but first it’s important to understand a few key elements of how bills are put together:

It’s important to remember that each proposed bill does one of two things to the State Code. Either, it proposes an addition, or it proposes a change to the state code. The specific part of the code that the bill impacts or “opens up,” is always listed with the text of the bill. This is how you’d look up the existing law if you needed to. 

Bills that propose a change to an existing section of code include that section of code along with the proposed changes. The existing part of the code is the part of the bill that is not underlined. It looks like this:  

If a bill changes part of the code, the underlined section will be in the middle of the non-underlined text. If the bill creates a new section of code, the whole thing will be underlined. The changes that a bill would make are underlined and look like this: 

How This Plays Out at the Legislature

As I mentioned before, the last bill that passes is the one that changes the code. That’s true both for underlined and non-underlined sections of the code.

Here’s an example of how that works:

  1. Imagine that right now the state code reads that “pepperoni rolls are considered to be the state food of West Virginia,” but no other language is included. 
  2. Now imagine that there are two bills at the legislature that “open up” the part of the code that deals with our state food. 
    1. Bill A says that pepperoni rolls are considered the state food of WV, provided that they contain pepperoni slices, rather than sticks. And provided that they do not contain any kind of sauce.
    2. Bill B says that pepperoni rolls are considered the state food of WV, provided that they contain pepperoni sticks rather than slices.
  3. If Bill B passes last, pepperoni rolls with sticks are now the state food, but because the original code says nothing about the sauce, the official state food could now be a pepperoni roll which includes both sticks and sauce. (A result we can all agree is simply unacceptable.)

 

These mechanics can impact funding sources for projects if multiple bills suggest using the same funding source in different ways. Similarly, if two bills propose different solutions to the same problem, the order in which these bills are passed becomes incredibly important.

As the end of the legislative session gets closer, citizen lobbyists know that it pays to keep an eye on bills that open up the same part of the code as the bills that they care most about. If many bills come up about the same thing, legislators often work to combine them to ensure that conflicts like the one in the example above don’t happen.

This can be an opportunity to work with legislators to make sure that their desired outcomes are represented in the combined bill, or that a case is made for why their policy solution makes the most sense.

The state code can be a daunting thing to think about. But, even if you’re not someone who cracks the code open regularly, understanding how and when bills change the code can help you make sure that your voice is heard at the legislature. 

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