Complete Overview of the Legislative Process
I. HISTORY AND OVERVIEW
The Georgia General Assembly has operated continuously since 1777, when Georgia became one of the thirteen original states. In 1868 the state capital (and with it, the general assembly) settled permanently in Atlanta. The General Assembly consists of two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate, each elected by Georgia voters every two years. Elections occur in even-numbered years (e.g., 2008, 2010, 2012). The Georgia Constitution sets the Senate membership at “not more” than 56 senators, and the House membership at “not fewer” than 180 representatives. With a total membership of 236, Georgia’s General Assembly ranks as the third largest in the United States. The Georgia Constitution also provides that the General Assembly shall commence session on the second Monday in January of each year, for a period of no longer than 40 days in the aggregate. Typically session runs into late March or early April because of formal adjournments that make 40 “session days” non-consecutive.
II. HOW DOES THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS WORK?
The legislative process begins with an idea – conceived by a legislator, legislative committee, citizen or group of citizens, advocacy organization, etc. – that addresses a particular need or interest. A legislator decides to sponsor a bill addressing this need, either with a new law or a bill that will change an existing law. A non-partisan attorney in the Office of Legislative Counsel advises the legislator on legal issues and drafts the bill.
A) Introduction and First Reading
Once the bill has been drafted, the legislator files the bill with the Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate, who then assigns it a number. On the next legislative day after filing, the bill is formally introduced. In chamber, the bill’s title is read during the period of 1st readings. Immediately after 1st reading the chamber’s presiding officer assigns the bill to a standing committee. Bills are routinely assigned to committees based on subject matter, but the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House retain discretion over a bill’s assignment.
B) Second Readings (House)
In the House only, on the next legislative day, the House Clerk reads the bill’s title in chamber, although the actual bill is now assigned to a committee. In the Senate, the 2nd reading before the entire chamber comes after a bill receives a favorable report from the committee to which it has been assigned.
A committee is tasked with considering and studying the bill, and typically solicits expert testimony, relevant information concerning the bill, and comment from all interested parties. During the Committee meeting, the bill’s author and other legislators may also testify. After considering a bill, committees may:
- Recommend Bill or Resolution Do Pass; or
- Recommend Do Not Pass; or
- Recommend Do Pass with changes (amendments or substitutes);
- Report without recommendation (in House); or
- Hold Bill. Often, a bill will be referred to a subcommittee – again, based on subject matter – then the full committee can hold hearings and make revisions. If the full committee approves the bill, it is “reported” to the full house. If the committee takes no action on the bill, it “dies.” Final Committee action is reported to the chamber in a written report.
D) Second Reading (Senate)
Bill read second time on legislative day following Committee report.
E) Third Reading and Passage
If a bill is reported favorably by committee, it is returned to the Clerk or Secretary who prepares a General Calendar of bills that have been favorably reported from committee. For the first ten days of session, the chamber’s presiding officer will call up bills from this calendar for floor action. Beginning the 10th day of session, the Rules Committee meets and, choosing from bills placed on the General Calendar, prepares a Rules Calendar for the next day’s floor consideration. During the last 30 days of session, the chamber’s presiding officer calls up bills from the Rules Calendar for consideration by the entire membership. Once the presiding officer calls up a bill from the Rules Calendar, the Clerk reads bill’s title (3rd reading). At this point, the bill is now ready for floor debates, amendments, and for voting.
If the bill is approved by a majority of the voting membership of that house, it is signed by the Clerk or the Secretary and transmitted to the other house for its consideration. The process described above then begins anew. If the second house passes the bill, it is returned to the house where it originated. With rare exception, any important bill passed in one house will be amended by the other. If those changes are accepted by a majority of the voting membership in the originating house, this bill is approved and ready to be submitted to the Governor.
G) Conference Committee:
However, if the originating house rejects the changes, a conference committee may be formed. A conference committee is comprised of three members from each House, appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. Both versions of the bill will go before the conference committee to be reconciled. In this situation, a bill’s passage requires both Houses to agree to the Conference Committee’s final report. If both houses accept the Conference Committee report, the bill is approved and may be sent to the Governor.
H) Governor’s Signature/Veto
If requested, a bill may be sent to the Governor immediately after passage, or otherwise following adjournment sine die, the final day of the legislative session. The Governor may approve or veto a Bill within six days after receipt while the General Assembly is in session. After adjournment sine die, the final day of the legislative session, he has 40 days to approve or veto a bill. If the Governor takes no action within the prescribed time, the Bill becomes a Law – also called a ‘pocket veto’. If the Governor vetoes the Bill, the General Assembly may override the veto with a two-thirds vote by each House during the next Session. An Act becomes effective the following July 1, unless a different effective date is provided in the language of the Act. After a bill has become law, it is assigned to the appropriate state or federal agency for implementation. At this point, additional opportunities to shape an Act’s effect are available to advocacy organizations, interest groups, and the public, during the agency rule promulgation and/or policy development process.
III. PUBLIC INFORMATION
The Georgia Constitution requires that both the House of Representatives and Senate maintain a journal of their proceedings; the Clerk of the House of Representatives and the Secretary of the Senate are tasked with keeping legislative records. The Clerk of the House of Representatives is an officer of the House, elected by a majority of the members of the House for a term concurrent with the members of the body. The Secretary of the Senate is elected by a vote of the Senators for a two-year term concurrent with the members of the body. Each Office serves as the custodian for all bills, resolutions, substitutions, amendments, records, papers and official documents filed with their respective chamber. Other responsibilities include keeping record of the daily proceedings of the chamber, tallying votes, and certifying all engrossed and enrolled copies of bills.
The Office of the Clerk of the House makes copies of bills available to the public. For official records of the House or the Clerk of the House, please call (404) 656-5015 or write to: Clerk of the House, 309 State Capitol Building, Atlanta, GA 30334.
The Office of the Secretary of the Senate provides legislation, applicable votes, and other documents online at http://www.legis.ga.gov, or in Room 353 of the State Capitol. These documents include:
- Senate First Readers (a brief summary of all bills and resolutions read the first time and referred to committee)
- Senate Daily Status (details actions taken by the Senate on all bills and resolutions during the legislative day)
- Senate Rules Calendar (set by the Committee on Rules, lists bills and resolutions to be read the third time and acted upon by the Senate)
- Composite Status shows the bill number, title, committee referral and actions on Senate and House legislation in both chambers.