Pre-filing for 2018 Legislative Sessions Underway in 36 States

by John Haughey // Nov 02, 2017 State & Local

Think it’s too early to be planning for the 2018 state sessions? Think again.

Several states are already deep into pre-filing. The first year of biennium sessions typically feature a flurry of bill filing as all 50 state legislatures convene.

By late October 2017, 142,582 bills had been submitted, and 18,526 adopted by the 7,383 lawmakers in the nation’s 50 state legislatures during their 2017 sessions, according to CQ State Track.

And that was before Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin had even adjourned.

The second year of biennium sessions, only 46 legislatures will convene, because Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas lawmakers traditionally do not meet during even-numbered years.

Of those 46 legislatures, 38 will convene in January, six in February, with Louisiana in March and North Carolina on April 23 beginning its 2018 legislative session after 19 states have already adjourned from scheduled sessions.

Staying abreast of submitted bills, especially when they affect the bottom lines of so many programs and organizations can be a daunting task for trade groups, associations, nonprofits, corporations and law firms engaged in advocating for causes, clients and issues.

For many states, the second year of the biennium session is exclusively dedicated to fiscal and budgetary issues meaning tracking what’s happening in 2018 becomes crucial to multiple organizations.

Once legislatures convene, bills can move in a blur and the pace can make tracking bills difficult. That’s why it’s particularly important to be aware of proposals as they surface in the months before legislatures formally convene.

If you’re waiting until January to submit or get tracking you’re going to be too late. The most effective way is to monitor and submit bills before a legislative session begins, during the pre-filing period.

Thirty-six states offer lawmakers and, in some cases, others, the opportunity to pre-file bills in advance of the upcoming 2018 legislative sessions. Providing a pre-filing period streamlines the law-making process by giving legislative staffs an opportunity to package the proper paperwork and formatting necessary to funnel bills into committees and, eventually, onto chamber floors.

Pre-filing periods also provide an opportunity for advocacy workers, lobbyists and government relations professionals to investigate and comment on proposals, and to contact elected officials to convey support or opposition to specific measures. It’s also a valuable time to educate and forge relationships before the sessions begins and time becomes a much tighter commodity.

When a bill is pre-filed, it’s numbered and referred to a committee. There is a slight variation in some legislatures between the pre-filing periods before the second session of a biennium, than the first. During this “interim” period between the adjournment of the first year and convening of the second year, at least 14 legislatures allow lawmakers to submit bills to a review committee.

They can then opt to number and refer them to specific committees before the legislature meets, or do so on the session’s first day. That can make it more difficult to monitor and track some pre-filed bills in some legislatures before commencement off the second-year session.

Nevertheless, keeping tabs on pre-filed bills gives those who need to be in the know an opportunity to plan strategies and tactics before the session begins.

PRE-FILING ACCELERATES IN NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER

No two legislatures are the same and many have different rules for pre-filing for first-year (odd-numbered) years and second-year (even-numbered) years of biennium sessions.

There may be 50 states, but there are at least 100 sets of rules for pre-filing bills – one for the Senate and one for the House – and those 100 rules can be different for odd- and even-numbered years. For instance, with state legislatures preparing for the second year of their 2017-18 biennium sessions, at least 14 states have been accepting pre-filed bills since the 2017 sessions adjourned.

By mid-October, three states had already closed their 2018 pre-filing periods.

The pre-filing period for 2018 legislative sessions in at least 18 other states kicks off in November (nine) and December (nine). Hawaii’s pre-filing period begins in January, and, by late October, three states had still not posted their timeframes for pre-filing.

By late October, 577 bills had already been pre-filed in Florida, which convenes Jan. 9. Kentucky lawmakers had pre-filed 55 bills, and Alabama legislatures had pre-filed 42 bills.

The other 11 states that have accepted pre-filed bills for 2018 had not posted them for public view yet. Either there is little pre-filing emphasis during the interim between sessions or preliminary proposals remain in review committee, where they are vetted before moving forward.

For instance, by Maine’s Sept. 29 pre-filing deadline, legislators had filed more than 300 “legislative service requests” (LSRs) to review prospective 2018 bills. Meanwhile, in nearby New Hampshire, during the House’s Sept. 6 to Sept. 22 pre-filing period, state representatives filed 647 LSRs. The New Hampshire State Senate’s pre-filing period began Oct. 12 and ended Nov. 2.

By late October, state senators had filed 33 LSRs. Meanwhile, at least four state legislatures – Arkansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Wyoming – do not permit pre-filing bills, or strictly limit it, before their budget sessions, which exclusively occupy their even-year legislative sessions. Connecticut only allows committees to pre-file bills before the second-year of its biennium session.

 

SOME STATE ANOMOLIES

* Louisiana: The 2018 pre-filing period essentially began the day after the 2017 legislative session adjourned in June, and ends with two different deadlines: “Retirement” and Constitutional Amendment bills on Jan. 26, and all other bills on March 2.

* Minnesota: The state legislature is beginning its legislative session a little later than usual, kicking off its 2018 lawmaking on Feb. 20. As a result, Cindy Maxwell of the State Revisor of Statutes Office said in late October that it had not established a pre-filing date yet. “Typically, we would hear about it in December, but this year, with the later start in the session, maybe not until January,” she said.

* Pennsylvania: The state legislature begins its 2018 legislative session on Jan. 2 and, unlike prior to its first-year biennium, it will allow senators to pre-file bills by Dec. 15.

* South Carolina: By late October, the state had not posted its pre-filing period for the 2018 legislative session, which begins Jan. 9. It usually begins in early December. Last year, more than 550 bills were pre-filed before the 2017 session.

* Tennessee: Pre-filing began with the 2017 legislative session’s May 10 adjournment, and continues until the 2018 session begins on Jan. 9. But pre-filed bills are not formally posted until the legislature convenes.

* Vermont: Pre-filed bills are accepted during the interim between 2017 adjournment and 2018’s Jan. 3 session commencement, but are “not publicly released until the first day of session.”

* Alaska: State legislators can file pre-file bills until Dec. 29 but they are not publicly posted until Jan. 4 and Jan. 12. The state’s 2018 legislative session begins Jan. 16.