Overview of Legislative Process
By the Maryland State Archives
Ideas for bills (proposed laws) come from many sources: constituents, the Governor, government agencies, legislative committees, study commissions, special interest groups, lobbyists and professional associations, for example. Each bill, however, must be sponsored by a legislator. The State Constitution mandates that bills be limited to one subject clearly described by the title of the bill and be drafted in the style and form of the Annotated Code (Const., Art. III, sec. 29). The one-subject limitation and the title requirement are safeguards against fraudulent legislation and allow legislators and constituents to monitor a bill's progress more easily. Omnibus bills, common in the U.S. Congress, clearly are forbidden under Maryland law.
At the request of legislators, bills are drafted to meet constitutional standards by the Department of Legislative Services until July (the Department starts to receive drafting requests in mid-April, shortly after the session ends). In the interim between sessions, legislators meet in committees, task forces, and other groups to study and formulate bill proposals.
From 1998 through 2000, the number of bills introduced per session has averaged 834 in the Senate and 1,362 in the House of Delegates. This volume of bills makes it difficult for each bill to get through the legislative process within the 90-day session. Therefore, legislators often try to introduce their bills as early as possible. A bill filed with the Secretary of the Senate or the Chief Clerk of the House prior to the first day of a regular session is called a prefiled bill. Such a bill is introduced (i.e., read across the floor) and assigned to a standing committee on the opening day of a session, thus obtaining a head-start advantage. In 2000, some 80 Senate bills and 90 House bills were prefiled.
The Constitution provides for an annual budget bill. Each year, the Governor presents a bill to the General Assembly containing the budget for State government for the next fiscal year. (In Maryland, the fiscal year begins July 1 and ends June 30.) The General Assembly may reduce the Governor's budget proposals, but it may not increase them. The budget, however, whether it is supplemented or amended, must be balanced; total estimated revenues always must be equal to or exceed total appropriations (Const., Art. III, sec. 52 (5a)).
If the General Assembly has not acted upon the budget bill seven days before the expiration of a regular session, the Governor by proclamation may extend the session for action to be taken on the bill. After both houses pass the budget bill, it becomes law without further action (Const., Art. III, sec. 52). The Governor may not veto the budget bill.
In addition to bills, legislators introduce joint resolutions. Substantive in nature, joint resolutions express the will, opinion, or public policy of the General Assembly (Senate Rule 25; House Rule 25). They are subject to the same legislative process as are bills, must be passed by both houses, but after passage are not codified in the Annotated Code. Joint resolutions that pass both houses are numbered and printed in the session laws for that year. The Governor does not veto joint resolutions and may or may not sign them.
Certain issues are required by law or the Constitution to be introduced in the form of a joint resolution and such joint resolutions have the force and effect of law. Examples include salary recommendations from the General Assembly Compensation Commission, the Governor's Salary Commission, and the Judicial Compensation Commission; reapportionment plans for General Assembly membership required after every decennial census; and amendments to the U.S. Constitution submitted for ratification.
After the Department of Legislative Services drafts legislation in the form of a bill or a joint resolution, the sponsor files it ("drops it into the hopper") with the Secretary of the Senate or the Chief Clerk of the House of Delegates. The bill or resolution is numbered, stamped for approval and codification by the Department of Legislative Services, and printed for first reading (Senate Rule 26; House Rule 26). Senate legislation appears on white paper and House legislation on blue paper.
The Constitution of Maryland requires that before any bill becomes law, it must be read on three different days in each house, for a total of six readings. A bill may not be read for the third time in its house of origin until it has been reprinted. The Constitution also specifies that a bill must be passed in each house by a majority vote of the total membership, and the final vote on third reading in each house must be recorded.
INTRODUCTION OF BILL (1st READING OF BILL)
A bill may be introduced throughout the ninety days of a session, but the later a bill is introduced, the more difficult its passage becomes. Any Senate bill introduced after the 24th calendar day of a session must be referred to the Senate Rules Committee, cannot be required to be returned to the floor except by a two-thirds vote of the membership, and may not be petitioned from the Rules Committee (Senate Rule 32). A House bill introduced after the 31st calendar day must be referred to the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee, requires a two-thirds vote to be returned to the floor, and cannot be petitioned from the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee (House Rule 32). For a bill to be introduced during the last 35 days of a session, the rules must be suspended by a two-thirds vote (Const., Art. III, sec. 27). Except for the annual budget bill and bills creating or amending State debts, a House bill that crosses over to the Senate after the 76th day of session is subject to the same restrictions as is a bill introduced after the 24th day.
Senate Standing Committees and House Standing Committees. After introduction, the bill is assigned to the appropriate committee for review. The committee system of the General Assembly is a vital part of the legislative process. Rules of each house require that every bill or joint resolution, with one exception, be referred to a standing committee after first reading (Senate Rule 33; House Rule 33). Standing committees are defined as those committees set forth in the Rules of the Senate or the Rules of the House of Delegates (Code State Government Article, sec. 2-101(f)). Their primary function is to consider all legislation referred to them by the Senate President or House Speaker. To review proposed legislation, the Senate has four standing committees House has six (Senate Rule 18; House Rule 18).
At the beginning of each session, the Senate President and House Speaker name chairs, vice-chairs, and the members of standing committees. A senator or delegate may not be appointed to more than one standing committee whose main function is to consider legislation. The Senate or House of Delegates may suspend rules in order to consider a bill or resolution without referring it to a standing committee as long as each member receives a copy of the bill or resolution to be so considered (Senate Rule 33(f); House Rule 33(f)).
The fate of most legislative proposals is determined in committee. Committees hold a public hearing on each bill or joint resolution assigned to them. During session, the Department of Legislative Services issues a weekly hearing schedule so that those interested may testify for or against proposed legislation. The Department of Legislative Services prepares a fiscal analysis for each bill, and these fiscal notes are considered during committee deliberations. To gauge a bill's economic impact on small business, the Department of Legislative Services, beginning in 1997, also prepares an economic analysis and rating for each proposal introduced by a member of the General Assembly.
At the committee hearing, testimony usually is heard from the bill's sponsor and other proponents and opponents of the bill. Testimony and further consideration may result in amendments to the bill made by the committee. The final vote of the committee is recorded by member, and may be favorable (with or without amendment), unfavorable, or without recommendation. Having been "voted out of committee," the bill now returns to the floor of its chamber of origin accompanied by a report of committee action.
Select Committees. Bills having a purely local impact are referred to select committees. A select committee is usually composed of a county's delegation in the House or its senators, with other members appointed as necessary to make up the minimum number of three. Counties without home rule keep their select committees busy.
CONSIDERATION OF COMMITTEE REPORT (2nd READING OF BILL)
After consideration of committee amendments, the bill is then open to amendment from the floor. There, committee action may be reversed, although this happens infrequently. Second reading is completed when the presiding officer orders the bill, with any adopted amendments, printed for third reading.
FLOOR VOTE ON BILL (3rd READING OF BILL)
No amendments may be presented on third reading. In the chamber of origin, a recorded vote is taken to pass or reject the bill. To pass, the bill must receive a majority vote of the elected membership.
After passage by the first chamber, the bill is sent to the opposite chamber, has its first reading, and is assigned to a committee for consideration. The procedure followed is identical with that of the first chamber except that amendments may be proposed during second and third readings. If not amended in the second chamber, final passage may occur without reprinting.
If amended in the second chamber, the bill is returned to the chamber of origin so that house may consider the amendments. If the amendments are agreed to, the bill is voted on as amended and action is complete. The bill is reprinted, or "enrolled," to include the added amendments before being submitted to the Governor.
If the amendments are rejected, the amending chamber may be asked to withdraw its amendments. If it refuses, either chamber may request that a conference committee be appointed to resolve the differences between the two chambers.
Appointed by the Senate President and the House Speaker, a conference committee consists of three members of each house. The committee sends a report of its recommendations to each chamber which then can adopt or reject it. If the report is adopted, the bill is voted upon for final passage in each house. If the report is rejected by either house, the bill fails.
The consent calendar is a list of bills to be read and voted upon as a group (Const., Art. II, sec. 17; Art. III, secs. 27, 28). The Senate and the House of Delegates may adopt a "consent calendar" procedure if members of each house receive reasonable notice of the bills placed on each consent calendar. This procedure expedites the legislative process. In 1988, the Senate revised its rules to place bills and joint resolutions on consent calendars by category as they are voted out of committee (Senate Rule 55). The House of Delegates still retains a Consent Calendars Committee to determine which bills and joint resolutions may be included on consent calendars (House Rules 18 and 55).
EFFECTIVE DATE OF LAWS
All bills passed by the General Assembly become law when signed by the Governor, or when passed over the Governor's veto by three-fifths of the membership of each house. According to the Constitution, laws thus approved take effect on the first day of June after the session in which they were passed, except when a later date is specified in the act, or the bill is declared an emergency measure. For many years, most laws took effect July 1. During the 1992 Session, October 1 began to be used as the standard effective date for legislation. Emergency bills, passed by three-fifths of the total number of members of each house, become law immediately upon their approval by the Governor.
All passed bills, except the budget bill and constitutional amendments, must be presented to the Governor within twenty days following adjournment of a session. The Governor may veto such bills within thirty days after presentation. If a passed bill is not vetoed, it becomes law. The budget bill, however, becomes law upon its final passage and cannot be vetoed. Constitutional amendments also cannot be vetoed; they become law only upon their ratification by the voters at the next general election.
The power to override a veto rests with the General Assembly. If the Governor vetoes a bill during a regular session, the General Assembly immediately considers the Governor's veto message. If the Governor vetoes a bill presented after the session, the veto message must be considered immediately at the next regular or special session of the legislature. The General Assembly may not override a veto during the first year of a new legislative term since the bill would have been passed by the previous legislature (Const., Art. II, sec. 17). A three-fifths vote of the elected membership of both chambers is necessary to override a veto.