by Patti Dahlberg and Jennifer Gilroy
Bill requests are coming in thick and fast and the drafting season is well underway. Now is probably a good time to review a couple of things about bill sponsorship and to remind you of recent changes to the rules for joint prime bill sponsors.
Bill Sponsor Basics. The legislator who introduces a bill is the bill’s prime sponsor. Each bill must have at least one prime sponsor in each house. In both houses, the prime sponsor is the one who “carries” the bill, which means he or she explains the bill in committee and in debate on the house or senate floor and usually arranges for witnesses to testify in favor of the bill in committee. Sometimes, two legislators in one house will agree to act as joint prime sponsors, in which case they are both responsible for carrying the bill. A bill that has joint prime sponsors in one house may or may not have joint prime sponsors in the other house. We’ll have more information on joint prime sponsorship later.
A legislator can be the first house prime sponsor or joint prime sponsor for only five bills, unless he or she has special permission to carry more. But a legislator can agree to be the second house prime sponsor or joint prime sponsor for as many bills as he or she wants to carry.
The first house prime sponsor is responsible for asking a legislator in the second house to carry the bill in the second house. The first house sponsor may identify a second house prime sponsor before the bill is introduced, but he or she must do so before the bill can be heard on third reading in the first house. The second house prime sponsor must give his or her permission before staff will add his or her name to the bill. The prime sponsors’ names are listed on the bill in bold.
Other legislators may want to show support for a bill by having their names listed on the bill, but not take on the responsibility of actually carrying the bill. If a legislator agrees to put his or her name on a bill before it is introduced, the legislator is a “sponsor” of the bill. If a legislator wants to add his or her name to a bill after it is introduced – either when the bill passes on third reading or when the bill is readopted in the first or second house – the legislator is a “cosponsor” of the bill.
Changes to Joint Prime Sponsorship. With everything else going on during the final days of the 2016 legislative session, you may not have paid much attention to the fact that both chambers passed resolutions amending their respective rules on the joint prime sponsorship of bills. Senate Resolution 16-004 passed May 3, 2016, and House Resolution 16-1008 passed May 6, 2016. Leadership in both houses sponsored these nearly identical resolutions to address some of the issues presented by the ever-increasing number of bills with joint prime sponsorship. Statistics bear out the trend, showing that the number of House bills with joint prime sponsorship have increased over the past 5 years from 31 in 2012 to 148 in 2016. A full one-third of the House bills introduced in 2015 had a joint prime sponsor. Similarly, the number of Senate bills with joint prime sponsorship increased from 17 in 2012 to 42 in 2016.
The resolutions addressed three pressing issues: 1) The timing for adding joint prime sponsors; 2) the bases for removing a joint prime sponsor; and 3) the ability to substitute a joint prime sponsor for one whose name has been removed from a bill. The two resolutions made the following noteworthy changes to House Rule 27A and Senate Rule 24A impacting the joint prime sponsorship of bills:
➤The first house prime sponsor of a bill may now add a joint prime sponsor in the first house or in the second house either before the bill is introduced in the first house or after second reading of the bill, but before the bill passes on third reading, in either the first house or the second house.
➤While a bill is pending in the first house, the Speaker or the President, as the case may be, may grant a joint prime sponsor’s request to have his or her name removed from the bill for a reason other than resignation, serious illness or other incapacity, or death.
➤While a bill is pending in the first house but before third reading, the first house prime sponsor may now designate a substitute prime sponsor for the second house (and also a substitute joint prime sponsor in the second house if he or she chooses) when the Speaker or President, as the case may be, has granted the second house prime sponsor’s or joint prime sponsor’s request to have his or her name removed from the bill.
➤The prime sponsor in the first house must notify the Chief Clerk or the Secretary of the Senate, as appropriate depending on which house the bill starts in, of any changes in bill sponsorship so that the changes are reflected in the reengrossed version of the bill.