Watching State Legislatures ‘Carry-Over’ Bills

by Ann Dermody // Oct 18, 2017 Uncategorized

By late October, 142,582 bills had been submitted in 2017 in the nation’s 50 state legislatures, according to CQ State.

Of those, only 18,526 had been adopted. That means 124,056 didn’t make the cut and were left in the hopper as state legislatures left their capitals for the year.

The majority of these bills will simply “die”, but others live on as “carry-over” bills, transmitted from session to session, lingering in committee limbo.

Here’s where it gets complicated. In some states, such as New York, the first year of a biennium session traditionally spurs an onslaught of proposed bills, simply to get them into committee. This year, 20,721 of the 21,329 bills introduced in 2017 were left lingering when state legislators left Albany for the year.

Twenty-three state legislatures start new legislative sessions with no carry-over bills, while 27 states allow bills from the previous session to carry over from the first year of a biennium to the second year — in this case, from 2017 to 2018.

Download the 2018 state legislative session calendar now! 

To complicate things further, New Jersey and Virginia are outliers in that they allow legislation to only carry over from even-numbered years to the odd-numbered years in a biennium.

The “carry-over” effect is why the second year of the biennium legislative sessions across the nation often match or exceed the number of adopted bills that occurred in the first year, even though four states – Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas (10,672 bills introduced with 1,089 adopted in 2017) – don’t even convene during even years.

It’s particularly important to keep tabs on carry-over bills through a tracking program like CQ StateTrack that can monitor proposals that were introduced in the last legislative session, but didn’t come to a vote. The carry-over process allows advocates time to lobby legislators, spur compromises, and support or challenge issues in the statehouses.

While virtually every state legislature has its own carry-over rules, in general, any bill from one house that remained unresolved are returned to the house of origin.

From there, these leftover proposals can be categorized in three ways:

* They begin the new session where they were at adjournment of the previous session – in committee or a chamber calendar.

* They revert back to the committee that transmitted them to the chamber calendar.

* They are reassessed by the chamber’s rules committee, often during the interim between biennium sessions.

Legislatures have a great deal of discretion with carry-over bills. If a bill is returned unresolved from one house to its chamber of origin, it can be immediately placed on the calendar for a third reading and returned to the second house the very first day the legislature convenes.

Or, should lawmakers chose, it can be reverted to the committee and recycle through the legislative process.

See which 36 states accept pre-filed bills, and which ones are already closed!


— Legislators in at least eight states – Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Utah – can use carry-over provisions during the first year of a biennium session to file a short-form, or “skeleton,” bill. That is essentially a trial balloon of sorts in which a proposal is introduced with little substance. It can often be a statement describing the proposal’s intent, but with little procedural heft. This can give committee allies and others an opportunity to build consensus and gain momentum. It also gives those needing to watch procedures a heads up on what’s coming.

— California bills introduced in the first year of the biennium that remain unresolved when the second year begins must be passed by the chamber of origin by Jan. 31 or they die.

— Several states – including Maine and North Carolina – restrict proposed bills during the second session of a biennium to certain subjects, primarily fiscal or budgetary. Carry over bills that do not meet these narrow criteria are rejected. The legislatures identify bills that can be carried over in a joint order or resolution.

— Hawaii only allows bills to carry over from an odd numbered year to an even-numbered year if it has passed a third reading in the House.

— West Virginia allows bills to carry over from the first year of a biennium to the second at the request of the bill’s sponsor if it “has not been rejected, laid on the table, or postponed indefinitely by the House.”