How A Bill Becomes A Law In California

By Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, 23rd Senate District

Are you making your holiday season plans?  I am and, as your state senator, I’m also planning for the new legislative year.  I thought it might be interesting to share how a bill becomes a law in California.

First, a member of the Assembly or State Senate submits an idea for a bill to the Legislative Counsel attorneys.  The idea can come from anywhere, anyone, or any organization.  The legislator drafts a memo of what problem or issue the bill would address and how, and the attorneys draft the idea into legal form and return it to the member for introduction into the member’s house.

The bill is introduced (first reading) when its number, title and author’s name is read on the floor of the Assembly or Senate for the first time.  It then goes to print, and no action may be taken on it for 30 days.

After 30 days, the bill goes to the Rules Committee, which assigns it to a policy committee for review based on its subject matter.  Some bills may be double-assigned, and all bills having significant fiscal impact go to the Appropriations Committee.

The author presents the bill in committee, where the members discuss it and hear testimony in support and opposition.  Prior to the hearing, committee consultants have prepared an analysis of the bill, which usually includes an explanation of current law, the proposed bill’s intent, and arguments for and against it.  If the committee or author has received letters about the bill, those are included.  These letters are important and should be sent to the bill’s author and the committee members hearing the bill before it’s scheduled for a vote.

The committee votes to pass the bill, amend it, or have it fail.  Each proposed amendment requires a vote, and it takes a majority vote of the full committee membership to pass a bill and move it forward to the next committee or to the floor of the house of origin, where the bill will receive its second and third reading.

The second reading introduces the updated bill to the house, and a second group of legislative consultants prepares an updated analysis.  For the third reading, the bill’s author explains it on the floor, and the full membership discusses and votes on it. The full membership of the Senate is made up of 31 Democrats and 9 Republicans, and the full membership of the Assembly is made up of 59 Democrats, 19 Republicans, 1 vacancy and 1 Independent.

Bills that cost money (require an appropriation) or that take effect immediately (have urgency), generally require 27 votes in the Senate and 54 votes in the Assembly to pass.  Otherwise, it’s generally 21 votes in the Senate and 41 votes in the Assembly.  If a bill is defeated, the author may ask for reconsideration and another vote.

Once the house of origin approves a bill, it proceeds to the other house to repeat the entire process. If the second house amends the bill, it must return to its house of origin for concurrence, agreement on the amendments. 

Once both houses have approved a bill, it goes to the governor, who has 30 days to either sign the bill into law, allow it to become law without his signature, or veto it.  The Legislature can override vetoes but only with a two-thirds vote of both houses.

Finally, the Secretary of State assigns a chapter number to the bill and makes it part of the California Codes, the comprehensive “book of laws.”

Most bills go into effect January 1 of the next year, but urgency measures take effect immediately after they are signed or allowed to become law without signature.

Throughout the process, there is great opportunity for people to look up legislation, watch committee hearings and floor sessions, follow the votes and provide input.  To look up legislation, past or pending, visit the California Legislative Information website.  To watch committee hearings or floor sessions live visit the State Senate or Assembly websites.

You can also contact my office or that of your state Assemblymember at any time regarding any existing laws or pending bills, and I urge you to do so.  We value everyone’s voice.