Think it’s too early to be planning for the 2017 state sessions? Think again. Several states (11 at last count) are already deep into pre-filing.
All 50 of the nation’s state legislatures will convene between December and April, kicking off their 2017-18 biennium legislative sessions with chambers and committees reconfigured to varying degrees by November’s elections.
During the 2016 legislative sessions, legislators in 46 states considered more than 160,000 proposed laws, regulations and resolutions, adopting nearly 45,000. With Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas lawmakers meeting this year — legislatures that only convene the first year of biennium sessions — State Trackers can be assured that 2017 will present yet another avalanche of proposals, debates and law-making to monitor.
Staying on top of proposals swirling about state capitols presents an intimidating undertaking for trade groups, associations, non-profits, corporations and law firms that advocate on behalf of causes and clients. This is especially true in the months before legislatures formally convene because once a prospective bill reaches the floor for a vote, it is often too late to influence the outcome.
Therefore, State Trackers, the time to act is now and among the most effective ways to do that is to monitor and submit bills before a legislative session begins during the pre-filing period.
Forty-four states allow lawmakers and, in some case, others to pre-file bills in advance of legislative sessions. Pre-filing streamlines the law-making process, allows legislative staffs to assemble the proper paperwork and formatting necessary to usher a bill into committees and, eventually, onto chamber floors. Pre-filing also provides an opportunity for advocates to examine proposals and contact elected officials to lobby for or against specific measures.
When a bill is pre-filed, it’s numbered — which means it can be found, researched and tracked — and, in most states, referred to a committee. Most states require pre-filed bills to be formally introduced once the legislature convenes. At that point, they are assigned to committees where they may, or may not, surface on chamber floors for formal consideration.
While monitoring pre-filed bills presents an opportunity to plan ahead, it also provides an effective tool for advocates to employ in getting their draft legislation into the law-making sausage factory before sessions begin.
Another benefit to keeping tab on pre-filed bills through a tracking program is staying on top of ‘carry-over’ bills, which are proposals that were introduced in the last legislative session but didn’t come to a vote. In some states, ‘carry-over’ bills are automatically re-introduced at the beginning of the next session.
NOVEMBER, DECEMBER PRE-FILING FLURRY
Of course, no legislature is alike. Fifty states, 50 sets of rules for proposing and adopting laws. When it comes to understanding and mastering pre-filing procedures, it is no different. For instance, of the 44 states that permit pre-filing, at least 14 have different rules for the first year of a biennium session than for the second year.
The pre-filing period for 2017 legislative sessions in 11 states has already begun. The state with the longest pre-filing period is North Dakota, where the legislature did not convene in 2016, but the pre-filing period for the 2017-18 biennium session began on Jan. 1, 2016.
By mid-September, for instance, 22 bills had already been pre-filed in Florida — all related to authorizing payments for court-awarded claims against the state — and nearly 40 had been submitted in Kentucky.
The pre-filing period for 15 states begins in November and for nine states in December. The pre-filing period begins in Alaska in January, less than two weeks before law-makers convene, and in February in Louisiana, where the legislature doesn’t go into session until April.
As of mid-September, the Illinois State Legislature had not announced when its formal pre-filing period will begin. In 14 legislative bodies — such as Oregon, New Jersey, New Mexico and Oklahoma — the procedures for pre-filing prior to the first year of the biennium differ from the pre-filing rules for the second year. In some cases, only senators can pre-file bills. In others, only representatives can do so.
There are state-by-state nuances and variations in pre-filing bills that State Trackers need to be aware of before wading into the legislative fray.
* While bills must be sponsored and submitted by legislators in 30 states, in the 20 other states, committees, individuals, groups, the governor, state agencies and state supreme courts can submit pre-filed proposals.
* Nine chambers limit the number of bills a member may pre-file and others restrict the number newly elected law-makers can file before the first-year of a biennium session.
In Alaska and New Jersey, for instance, legislators can pre-file up to 10 proposed bills while the Oklahoma Senate limits it to eight. In Florida, the limit is six and in Colorado, legislators are capped at five pre-filed bills. Before the first year of a biennium legislature, Wyoming senators can pre-file up to seven bills while during the second year — 2018 in this instance — they can only pre-file three.
* Committees in 20 states are required to hear pre-filed bills, and 12 permit committees to vote on them. The committee-review phase is an important opportunity to influence legislation.
* There are 15 state legislatures that mandate pre-filed bills be presented for a vote. A broader outreach is often necessary in these states to educate legislators who may not be aware of members’ concerns with a specific bill. This is when a grassroots infrastructure pays dividends.