Covid or No Covid – Bill Request Deadlines Are Quickly Approaching!

by Patti Dahlberg

The 2020 election is finally in the rear view mirror and the first bill request deadlines are just ahead! One might think that returning and newly elected legislators would have a little time to take a breath and relax a bit before gearing up for the 2021 legislative session. Unfortunately, the constitution, legislative rules, and a looming 120-day legislative session don’t allow for much relaxation, and they don’t care about Covid.

And what a year of Covid it has been and continues to be. The state has been under a declared statewide public health disaster emergency since last March, and the 2020 legislative session recessed for two months then reconvened in late May. A huge number of bills were left on the side of the road in order to streamline the legislative process and balance the state’s budget before the end of the 2019-20 fiscal year. The General Assembly did tie up its business in 84 days but didn’t adjourn until June 15, making 2020 the longest, shortest, and strangest session in recent memory. These events also made the 2020 legislative interim one of the shortest in recent history. In any case it’s all behind us now, and it’s time to look forward, where the upcoming bill deadlines require legislators to complete the bulk of their bill drafting in December before the first day of the legislative session.

Returning legislators have until Tuesday, December 1, 2020, to submit their first three bill requests to the Office of Legislative Legal Services (OLLS).* A legislator is considered “returning” if the legislator served in the 72nd General Assembly, even if the legislator previously served as a representative and will be serving as a senator in the 73rd General Assembly.

Newly elected legislators have a little extra time — but not much — to get their session legs. They must submit their first three bill requests to the OLLS by Tuesday, December 15, 2020.*

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 session. These five bill requests are in addition to any appropriation, committee-approved, or sunset bill requests that a legislator may choose to carry.*
  • To reach the five-bill-request limit within the bill request deadlines, legislators must submit at least three bill requests to the OLLS by the December deadlines. Legislators must submit the last two requests by January 19, 2021 (but see below).
  • If a legislator submits fewer than three requests on or before the December deadline, he or she forfeits the other one or two requests that are due by that date.*

The first bill request deadline is still about 10 days away, so some may feel there is still plenty of time. But if a legislator waits until December to submit the first three bill requests, the legislator will almost immediately need to provide sufficient drafting information so that the drafters can draft all three of the bills quickly. The legislator will also have to very quickly decide which of these requests will become his or her “prefile bill”, which needs to be filed for introduction before the beginning of session. And for newly elected members – although the legislative rules allow them more time to request their first three bills than a returning legislator – these rules do not actually allow a new legislator additional time to have his or her bills drafted. Newly elected members have less time for drafting bills if they wait until the December 15 bill request deadline to submit their requests.

If possible, every legislator — even the new ones — should try to submit at least one bill request ASAP. This bill request may address any subject matter and does not need to be completely conceptualized. The bill drafter will help you figure out how to word your bill, and the bill drafting process allows for potential issues or problems to rise to the surface, making it easier for the legislator to decide whether the idea is “workable.” If it becomes apparent that a request isn’t needed or is unworkable, the legislator can withdraw 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. By submitting bill requests and draft information as soon as possible, legislators give drafters more time to work on their drafts. It will make it easier to determine duplicate bill requests and work out any drafting kinks before the first day of session — Wednesday, January 13, 2021.

Legislators should also consider submitting more than three requests by the December deadlines. By doing so, a legislator preserves the flexibility to withdraw and replace at least one of his or her requests after the December deadline without losing a request. If a legislator submits only the three-request minimum by the December deadline and later withdraws one of those requests, the legislator forfeits the withdrawn bill request because the rules allow a legislator to submit only two bill requests after the December deadline and before the January deadline.* On the other hand, if a legislator submits four bill requests by the December deadline and later withdraws one of those requests, the legislator is left with 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.

Upcoming deadlines: Too many to remember and too important to forget.  Bill request and bill introduction deadlines are listed below. Deadlines applying only to House bills are in green, deadlines applying only to Senate bills are in red, and deadlines applying to both the House and Senate are in blue.  Click here for a link to House and Senate bill drafting, finalization, and introduction deadlines. The listed OLLS internal deadlines are designed to help move bill requests through the drafting process in a timely manner and to allow sufficient time for editing and review in order to provide a higher-quality work product and assure the timely introduction of bills. Paper copies of these tables are available in the OLLS Front Office, Room 091 of the Capitol.

It is important to note for the upcoming session that the deadlines that arise after January 13, 2020, may be delayed. Normally, when the General Assembly convenes, that first day and every calendar day thereafter counts against the constitutional 120-day limit on the length of the regular legislative session. But so long as the statewide public health disaster emergency declaration remains in place, only those days on which at least one of the houses convenes will count as a legislative day. All of the deadlines during the legislative session are based on the numbered legislative days, so days on which neither house convenes—such as a Saturday or Sunday—won’t count. And if, like last session, the houses temporarily adjourn, any deadlines that have not yet passed at the time of adjournment will be delayed until the houses reconvene and the legislative days start counting again.

December deadlines:*

December 1. The last day for returning legislators to request their first three (or early) bill requests. After December 1 these legislators will only be allowed two additional bill requests (and only if they are under the five-bill limit). December 15. The last day for newly elected legislators to request their first three (or early) bill requests. After December 15 these legislators will only be allowed two additional bill requests (and only if they are under the five-bill limit).

Upcoming filing and introduction deadlines (assuming a 120 calendar day session):*

January 8. Deadline to file prefile bills with House and Senate front desks.
January 15. Deadline to file Senate early bills with the Senate front desk.
January 19. Deadline to request last two bills (regular bills) if a legislator is under the five-bill limit.
January 19. Deadline to file House early bills with the House front desk.
January 29. Deadline to file Senate regular bills with the Senate front desk.
February 3. Deadline to file House regular bills with the House front desk.

* A legislator may 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.