The 2016 elections are (finally!) over and the next legislative session convenes on Wednesday, January 11, 2017. Unfortunately, legislative rules and a 120- day session do not allow new and returning legislators much time for rest and relaxation between the November election and January session. Bill deadlines actually require legislators to complete the bulk of bill drafting in December before the first day of the legislative session.*
Returning legislators have until Thursday, December 1, 2016, to submit their first three bill requests to the Office of Legislative Legal Services (OLLS). A legislator is a “returning legislator” if he or she served in either house of the General Assembly in the preceding legislative session.
Legislators who are new to the General Assembly have a little more time — but not much — to get their session legs. They must submit their first three bill requests to the OLLS by Thursday, December 15, 2016.
Legislators who have already submitted bill requests, and those who do so as soon as possible, give drafters a jump-start on crafting bill drafts. An early start on drafting can help a bill sponsor identify and fix any issues that may arise with a bill long before the first day of session.
What all legislators need to know about requesting bills [Joint Rule 24(b)(1)(A)]:
- The Joint Rules allow each legislator five bill requests each legislative session. These five bill requests are in addition to any appropriation, committee-approved, or sunset bill requests that a legislator may carry.†
- To reach the five bill request limit within session deadlines, a legislator must submit at least three bill requests to the OLLS by the appropriate December deadline. In addition, each legislator must submit the last two (of five) requests by Tuesday, January 17, 2017. †
- If a legislator submits fewer than three requests by the December deadline, he or she forfeits the other one or two unrequested bills that were due by that date.†
With the first bill request deadline still a few weeks away, some legislators may feel they have plenty of time to take care of business. But the reality is that when a legislator waits until December to submit his or her first three bill requests, he or she will also need to provide sufficient drafting information so that the drafters can immediately begin working on all three bills; the legislator will need to very quickly decide which of these requests will be filed for introduction on the first day of session. And for newly elected legislators, keep in mind that, although the legislative rules allow you more time than a returning legislator has to request your first three bills, these rules do not give you, as a new legislator, more time to have your bills drafted.
If possible, every legislator — even a new one — should try to submit at least one bill request ASAP. Don’t worry about having all the information or all the answers at this point. Through the bill drafting process, bill drafters will discuss the request with you, ask you questions, and help you find information. Getting an earlier start on bill drafts also enables any potential issues or problems to rise to the surface earlier, making it easier for the legislator to decide whether his or her idea is “workable.” If it becomes apparent that a request isn’t working, the legislator can withdraw it and replace it with a new request, as long as he or she makes that decision on or before the December 1 deadline for returning members or the December 15 deadline for new members.
Legislators should consider submitting more than the minimum three requests by the December deadline. By doing so, a legislator preserves the flexibility to withdraw and replace at least one and possibly two of his or her requests after the December deadline without losing a request. For example, if a legislator submits only three requests by the December deadline and later withdraws one of them, the legislator forfeits the withdrawn bill request because the rules allow a legislator to submit only two bill requests after the December request deadline and before the January request deadline. On the other hand, if a legislator submits four bill requests by the December deadline and later withdraws one of them, the legislator still has his or her three bill requests that meet the early request deadline plus the legislator can submit the two requests that are allowed after the early bill request deadline — for a total of five bill requests.
And a note to any returning legislators who already have more than five bill requests submitted to the Office: By December 1, these legislators must decide which five bills they intend to introduce. The legislators must seek delayed bill status for each of the remaining bill requests for the OLLS to be authorized to continue working on them.
* Every legislator’s first bill must be filed by Friday, January 6, 2017, to be ready for introduction on the first day of the legislative session. Every senator’s next two bills must be filed with the Senate on the 3rd legislative day (Friday, January 13), and every representative’s next two bills must be filed with the House on the 7th legislative day (Tuesday, January 17).
† A legislator can ask permission from the House or Senate Committee on Delayed Bills, whichever is appropriate, to submit additional bill requests or to waive a bill request deadline.