Ideas for bills can come from all kinds of places: constituents, government agencies, special interest groups, lobbyists, the Governor or even personal experiences of the legislator. After the idea is conceived, a legislator will use data and resources to shape it into legislation and move it through the legislative process. Every step of the way is an opportunity to advocate.
The idea is submitted to the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, a nonpartisan legislative staff office, in the form of a bill request. A drafting attorney from the office is assigned to the bill and will review existing law, research the issues, and prepare the bill in proper technical legal form. When the sponsoring legislator is ready to make their bill public, the bill is given a number. A fiscal review is then conducted and a “Fiscal Note” is attached. The bill is also reviewed for statutory or constitutional concerns.
When a bill is ready to begin the legislative process, it is handed off to the Rules Committee to assess for review. The Rules Committee may set the process in motion by assigning the bill to a Standing Committee, hold onto the bill to be released at a later date as time allows, prevent the bill from leaving Rules or send the bill back to the sponsor to make any necessary changes.
If the Rules Committee decides to release a bill, the chair will recommend to the presiding officer to which standing committee the bill should be referred. This process sometimes involves conversations with the chairs of the standing committees. The standing committee, in an open meeting, then reviews the bill and receives public testimony. The committee may amend, hold, table, substitute, or make a favorable or unfavorable recommendation on the bill. If the vote is unfavorable, the bill is dead (at least in its current form) for the session. If the bill receives a favorable vote, it moves ahead.
Following the standing committee hearing, the bill is returned to the full body with a committee report, which either reports the bill out favorably, favorably with amendments, substituted, or that the bill has been tabled. Unless the bill is tabled, the bill will move forward in that body.
The bill receives a Second Reading in the full body. In the House, the Second Reading this is just like the First and no vote is taken; in the Senate, a bill will be debated and voted upon in the Second and Third readings alike. During the Third Reading, the bill is debated in an open floor session. During floor debate, the bill can be amended or substituted. It can be held (circled) if the sponsor chooses to allow more time to reach consensus, investigate a question or draft an amendment. The sponsor may then uncircle the bill when it is ready to proceed with floor review. In order for a bill to pass the House of Representatives, it must receive at least 38 votes. The bill must receive at least 15 votes in the Senate in order to pass.
After the bill has passed through one body, it is passed to the other body to repeat the entire process, beginning with the other body’s Rules Committee.
In the event that the second body amends the bill and causes it to be different in any way from the bill that passed in the first body, it must be returned to the first body for a “concurrence vote”. If the first body approves of the changes, the bill passes the concurrence vote and moves forward. If the first body does not approve, a “conference” is called, with leadership in both bodies selecting a small group of legislators from both parties to convene in a public setting and debate and decide the final version of the bill. The conference decision is then submitted to the larger body.
After the bill has been approved in the same form through both houses, it is signed by both presiding officers (the Senate President and the Speaker of the House). The Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel then prepares the bill in its final form. This is called the “enrolled” bill.
The enrolled bill is sent to the Governor for final action. The Governor can either sign the bill, object to a portion, veto it, or allow it become law without the Governor’s signature after 10 days of the bills passage or after 20 days of the bills passage if the legislative session adjourns within 10 days of the bill’s passage (day of receipt by the Governor and Sundays excluded). If the Governor objects to a bill, he or she may return the bill to the state legislature with objections within 10 days of receipt, forcing the legislature to reconsider a bill. If the bill then passes once again by 2/3 majority in each house, it will become law and may not be vetoed. If the Governor disapproves of a portion of a bill or appropriation, he or she may attach the objections to the signed bill, and objected portions will not become law unless passed over the Governor’s objections by the legislature. If the legislature adjourns within 10 days after a bill’s passage, then the Governor may object to a bill or portion of a bill or appropriation by veto. Legislative leaders may then poll the legislative body to determine if a Special Session will be had to reconsider the bill. A vote of 2/3 majority of both houses in a special session will override the Governor’s veto. If the Governor does not act to object, sign or veto a bill, then the bill will become law within 10 days of receipt, or within 20 days of receipt if after the adjournment of the legislative session.
A bill enacted by the Legislature is effective 60 days following adjournment, unless another date is specified in the bill. It then becomes law.
How bills are named
Bills are named according to their body of origin, so each bill will be either a House Bill (HB) or a Senate Bill (SB). Bills are then numbered in the order in which they are filed. Bills central to state operations, such as budget bills, hold a reserved place as the first bills filed. Note that not all bills filed get numbered, as new bill files can be opened shortly after a previous legislative session, and some are abandoned or never completed. Sponsoring legislators choose to have their bills numbered when they are ready to make a bill public. Often drafts of bills in development remain confidential until the bill sponsor is ready to have it numbered.
Not all legislation is enacted in the form of a bill. Sometimes resolutions, instead of bills, are passed to express legislative intent. There are three types of resolutions:
- Simple resolutions (HRs and SRs) – Need only pass in the house of origin and initiate action involving only that house, such as establishing a committee or altering the house’s rules, though some resolutions push for broader policy themes. Resolutions are named according to their body of origin — House or Senate Resolutions (HRs and SRs).
- Joint resolutions (HJRs and SJRs) – Must pass in both the House and the Senate and are used for matters involving both houses, such as appointing joint committees, issuing joint communiques, or proposing to amend the Utah Constitution. Joint Resolutions are named according to their body of origin — House or Senate Resolutions (HJRs and SJRs).
- Concurrent resolutions – Must pass in both the House and Senate and be signed by the governor and are used to express the position of the state on a specific matter
All bills and resolutions, once they are numbered, can be viewed and tracked through the state legislative website at: le.gov.utah. The total number of open bill files are listed by legislator here. Bills can be searched by legislator, subject, committee, or year here.