Pre-filing for 2019 State Legislative Sessions

by John Haughey // Nov 24, 2018 FiscalNote State

Think it’s too early to be planning for the 2019 state sessions? Think again.

A whopping 30 of the 34 states that accept pre-filed bills in advance of their upcoming 2019 legislative sessions do so by year’s end.

In these states, advocates who have programs, initiatives, or other legislative goals don’t have to wait until lawmakers are seated in session to solicit endorsement.

But because 2018 was an election year, there is a quirk in the data.

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CALM BEFORE STORM

Typically, pre-filing periods for the first year of a biennium session begin slowly, but then feature a late flurry of pre-filed bills as newly elected lawmakers set out to make their mark on the coming year’s legislative session.

For instance, Florida’s pre-filing period has been open since August 1, 2018, as it was on the same day last year.

By mid-October 2017, Florida lawmakers had pre-filed 577 bills for the 2018 legislative session. This mid-October, with all 120 House seats and 22 of 40 Senate seats up for election, only 16 bills had been pre-filed for the 2019 legislative session.

That pace picked up immediately after the election, not just in Florida, but across the nation, as newly elected, and re-elected lawmakers try to turn campaign promises into pre-filed bills.

EASIER TO TRACK NOW THAN LATER

The most effective way to monitor and submit bills is before a legislative session begins — and that is now, during the pre-filing period.

Once legislatures convene, bills can move in a blur and the pace can make tracking bills difficult.

Pre-filed bills are formal legislative proposals that afford sponsors — and opponents — time to spell out what a bill will do and to identify opportunities for tactical concessions to find strategic allies.

Pre-filing a bill allows legislative staffs time to document, package and format proposals in greater detail and clarity than bills introduced during the rush of the legislative session — albeit it, for better or for worse.

There will be a great deal of energy in the hustle and bustle of seating new legislatures, but there won’t be much time between the election and when legislatures convene their 2019 sessions — 43 begin in January alone.

Therefore, staying abreast of submitted bills, which can come in flurries in the aftermath of an election — often from novice legislators without administrative support or mastery of the process yet — can be a challenge.

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This is particularly true for issue advocates, trade groups, associations, nonprofits, corporations and law firms trying to test the waters of a newly elected legislature.

BENEFITS OF PRE-FILING BEFORE FIRST SESSION

In many states, the first year of a biennium session — the odd year — is when newly seated legislators can introduce bills related of any matter.

Many states restrict legislation filed during the second year of biennium sessions to only fiscal and budgetary issues. The first year of a biennium session, however, is often far less restrained in most states.

Bills pre-filed now, as well as during the first year of a biennium session, in many states carry over from one year to the next on committee dockets.

That makes pre-filing bills before the first year of a biennium session a good tactic because the proposals will have a longer shelf life — up to two annual sessions in some states – and because there are few restrictions on what type of bills can be filed.

The pre-filing period also provides an opportunity to investigate and comment on proposals, and to contact elected officials to convey support or opposition to specific measures.

Pre-filed bills are numbered and referred to a committee. The committee is where advocacy efforts are going to have the most impact, especially in informal pre-session gatherings where pending issues can be discussed.

WHY 2019 WILL BE A SIGNIFICANT YEAR

Of course, no two legislatures are the same. There may be 50 states, but there are at least 200 sets of rules for pre-filing bills – one set for the Senate and one for the House in most states, and one set each for first- and second-years of biennium sessions.

And no two years are the same.

By October last year, 142,582 bills had been submitted and 18,526 adopted by state lawmakers in 2017, according to FiscalNote state solutions. Even without four legislatures convening this year, by October 2018, the number of introduced bills had topped 140,000 and adopted legislation neared 18,000.

Four state legislatures — Texas, Montana, North Dakota and Nevada — do not meet during even years, only assembling during odd years, and will convene in 2019.

Of those four, three were accepting pre-filed bills— Nevada since May 2017; North Dakota for nearly a year, and Texas from November 12, 2018.