Lifecycle of a Bill


How does a bill become law?

How do bills even get started? What’s the best way to stop harmful legislation? When is the best time to weigh in on a bill?

To answer these questions, it’s crucial to know the process of lawmaking in California. Rather see it in pictures?  See here.

Read more about how FCLCA (and you) can have an impact during these steps.

An overview of the legislative process

The process of government by which bills are considered and laws enacted by the California State Legislature is commonly referred to as the legislative process.

The California State Legislature is made up of two houses: the Senate and the Assembly. There are 40 Senators and 80 Assembly Members representing the people of the State of California.

The Legislature maintains a legislative calendar governing the introduction and processing of the legislative measures during its two-year regular session.

The Legislature functions to create laws that represent the best interests of the citizens within each legislative district. Proposals for new laws are called bills. To become a law, a bill must successfully pass through a number of steps.

1. Idea
All legislation begins as an idea. Ideas can come from anyone. The process begins when someone persuades a senator or assembly member to author a bill.

2. Introduction
A legislator sends the idea for the bill to the Office of the Legislative Counsel, where it is drafted into bill form.

  • The draft of the bill is returned to the legislator for introduction. If the author is a Senator, the bill is introduced in the Senate. If the author is an Assembly Member, the bill is introduced in the Assembly.
  • The bill is designated by a number and title that reflects where it began.  For example, Senate Bill 9, or SB 9 or Assembly Bill 1270, or AB 1270.

2. First Reading
A bill's first reading is when the clerk reads the bill number, the name of the author, and the descriptive title of the bill.

The bill is then sent electronically to the Office of State Printing. A bill must be in print for 30 days, giving time for public review, before it can be acted on.

3. Committee Hearings
After introduction, a bill goes to the Senate or Assembly Rules Committee, where it is assigned to the appropriate policy committee for its first hearing.

Bills are assigned to policy committees according to subject area. (For example, an Assembly bill dealing with a criminal justice issue would go to the Assembly Public Safety Committee; a Senate bill dealing with health care facilities would first be assigned to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee for policy review).  

Each house maintains a schedule of legislative committee hearings. Prior to a bill's hearing, a bill analysis is prepared that explains the intended effect of the bill on current law, together with background information. Typically the analysis also lists organizations that support or oppose the bill.

The public may attend legislative committee hearings.

During the committee hearing the author presents the bill to the committee, and testimony may be heard in support or opposition to the bill.

Bills may be amended several times. The committee can pass the bill, pass the bill as amended, or defeat the bill. It takes a majority vote of the committee membership for a bill to be passed and sent to the next committee or to the floor.

Bills that require the expenditure of funds must also be heard in the fiscal committees, Senate Appropriations and Assembly Appropriations. Each committee is made up of a specified number of Senators or Assembly Members.

4. Second Reading
Bills passed by committees are read a second time in the house of origin and then placed in the Daily File for a third reading.

5. Third Reading
Bill analyses are also prepared prior to third reading. When a bill is read the third time it is explained by the author, discussed by the Members, and voted on by a roll call vote.

Bills that require an appropriation, or that take effect immediately, ordinarily require 27 votes in the Senate and 54 votes in the Assembly to be passed.

Other bills generally require 21 votes in the Senate and 41 votes in the Assembly.

If a bill is defeated, the Member may seek reconsideration and another vote.

6. Repeat Process in Other House
Once the bill has been approved by the house of origin it proceeds to the other house where the procedure described above is repeated.

7. Resolution of Differences
If a bill is amended in the second house, it must go back to the house of origin for concurrence, meaning agreement on those amendments.

If the house of origin does not concur in those amendments, the bill is referred to a two-house conference committee to resolve the differences. Three members of the committee are from the Senate and three are from the Assembly.

If a compromise is reached, the bill is returned to both houses for a vote.

8. Governor
If both houses approve a bill, it goes to the Governor.

The Governor has three choices: sign the bill into law, allow it to become law without his or her signature, or veto it. A governor's veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote in both houses.

Most enacted bills go into effect on the first day of January of the next year. Urgency bills, and certain other measures, take effect immediately after they are enacted into law.

9. California Law
Bills to become law are sent to the Secretary of State for final review.

Each bill is given a chapter number and the Secretary of State stamps it with the Great Seal of the State of California. These chaptered bills are statutes, and ordinarily become part of the California Codes. The California Codes are a comprehensive collection of laws grouped by subject matter.

A comprehensive guide to the California’s legislature and legal system is available here and here.  For information on grassroots lobbying and the California Legislature, see the FCL Education Fund's Guidebook to Grassroots Lobbying and the California Legislature called Bring Your Voice.