Passing Laws In Minnesota
Almost any idea may be turned into a bill – it may be an entirely new law, amend a current law, or repeal a law. A bill follows eight steps on its way to becoming Minnesota law.
- Legislative proposal: Anyone can come up with an idea for a bill—an individual, consumer group, corporation, governmental unit, or governor. Before a bill can be considered, it must be put into proper legal form by the revisor of statutes. Only a legislator, constitutional officer, or state agency can ask the revisor to prepare a bill.
- Authors: Each bill must have one legislator in each body to serve as the chief author of the bill. The chief author is usually the one to ask the revisor to prepare the bill. The chief author in each body introduces the bill, presents it in committees, and on the floor. Other legislators may sign on as “co-authors” to show their support for the proposal. There may be up to 34 co-authors in the House and four in the Senate. Co-authors are listed on the bill, butoften do not take an active role in the passage of a bill.
- Introduction: When a bill is introduced, it is assigned a file number by which it is known. In the House, it is a house file number, e.g., H.F. 1531; in the Senate, a senate file number, e.g., S.F. 1331. Numbers are assigned to bills in chronological order as they are introduced. The House and Senate versions of the bills are known as companions.
At the time a bill is introduced, it is given its “first reading” and is referred to the appropriate committee. A bill must receive three readings on the floor of each body before it can be passed.
- Committee consideration: The chair of the committee to which the bill was referred will decide when and if to give the bill a hearing. All committee meetings are open to the public. Committees often hear testimony from those in favor or opposed to a bill before taking action. Committees often amend the language of the bills.
Committees may vote on whether a bill should pass or may delay consideration of it by “laying it on the table.” A bill must receive the votes of a majority of the members present and voting in order to pass. Bills that are passed may be sent to another committee or to the floor for consideration by the entire House or Senate.
- Second Reading, General Register and General Orders: Once a bill has passed through all of the required committees, it is sent to the full House or Senate and given its second reading and placed on the list of bills that the body may consider. In the House this list is called the General Register; in the Senate it is called General Orders.
- Debate, Third Reading and Passage: At this point, House and Senate procedures differ slightly.
In the House, the Committee on Rules and Legislative Administration chooses bills from the General Register for consideration by the full House by placing them on the Calendar for the Day or the Fiscal Calendar. The chief author presents the bill. Members may debate the merits of the bill and offer amendments. When there are no more amendments, the bill is given its third reading. After any additional debate, the House takes a roll call vote on the bill, meaning that each member’s vote for or against the bill is recorded.
The Senate uses a different procedure. The chair of the committee on Rules and Administration designates the bills from General Orders that the Senate will consider each day. The Senate then meets as the “committee of the whole,” and debates the issue and offers amendments to the bill.
The Senate then votes the bill up or down.
Bills approved by the “committee of the whole” are placed on the calendar. At this point, the bill has its third reading and a roll call vote is taken on the bill.
To pass, a bill needs the votes of a majority of the members in each body. The one exception are bonding bills, which require a vote of three-fifths of the members to pass. A bonding bill authorizes the sale of bonds to raise money for the state.
- Conference committee: When the House and the Senate pass companion bills with language that is not identical, a conference committee is formed. Conference committees are made up of either three or five members from each body. Their goal is to find a compromise between the
language passed by the House and the Senate. If they reach a compromise, their agreement must be passed by both bodies before it can be sent to the governor.
- The governor: Once the House and Senate have agreed on and passed the identical bill—either when it was first passed or as a result of a conference committee—it is sent to the governor for his consideration. The governor has several options. He may sign it, in which case the bill becomes a law. The governor may veto it as a whole and provide an explanation for his decision. For bills that spend money, the governor may choose to “line item” certain expenditures, and sign the rest of the bill into law.
If the governor does not sign or veto a bill within three days after receiving it, the bill becomes a law. The governor has up to 14 days to take action on bills passed during the last three days of a legislative session in the second year of the biennium. If the governor does not take action on a bill
passed during this time frame, it does not become law.
The Legislature may override a governor’s veto if two-thirds of the members of both bodies vote to do so.