Understanding the Legislative Process
Patterned after the United States Congress, California has a bicameral (two-house), two-party Legislature with 80 assembly members and 40 senators. Assembly members are elected for two-year terms and senators for four-year terms with one-half elected every two years. No member of the Assembly may serve more than three terms and no member of the Senate may serve more than two terms. The majority party in each house controls the leadership role.
The California Legislature is the policymaking body of state government, restricted only by the federal and state constitutions and the governor's veto power. The Legislature also conducts investigations into almost any issue of public concern. It can also ratify amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In recent years, there has been a trend by the Legislature to grant itself more of the appointive power traditionally granted to the governor. Many commissions now consist of gubernatorial and legislative appointees. Annually, the governor, the Senate Rules Committee, and the Speaker of the Assembly make hundreds of appointments to State boards and commissions. Information on available appointments and requirements is included in the "Central Registry" of appointments. The Central Registry lists all appointments and respective appointing authorities. Your county clerk is legally required to keep an updated copy of the Registry. Copies are also available at the offices of the Secretary of State.
As a result of a constitutional amendment adopted in 1972, the California Legislature now meets in a continuous two-year session, convening on the first Monday in December of each even-numbered year. The two-year session eliminates the necessity of reintroducing and reprinting bills that were not acted upon or refused passage during the first year of the biennial session.
The governor may also call the Legislature into extraordinary session to consider and act upon specified subjects. During these special sessions, the Legislature is limited to considering only the matters specified in the governor's proclamation.
A majority vote (21 in the senate and 41 in the assembly) of the elected members will pass all but urgency bills, Political Reform Act amendments, and appropriation bills or proposed constitutional amendments. These require a two-thirds vote (27 and 54 respectively). Some education appropriation bills, however, may be passed by majority vote.
Bills enacted by October 2 of a given year become effective on January 1 of the following year. Bills enacted during extraordinary sessions become effective 91 days after the adjournment of that session. Bills that contain urgency clauses, called "urgency measures," take effect immediately upon being signed by the governor.
The Legislature is divided into subject matter "policy committees" within each house. In addition, each house also has "fiscal committees": Senate Appropriations, Senate Budget and Fiscal Review and Assembly Appropriations and Assembly Budget. The Rules Committee in each house makes the vital decisions regarding which policy committee will be granted jurisdiction over new legislative proposals. Both houses have two fiscal committees; one to review appropriations, and one to review state budget issues.
Each house of the Legislature adopts "Standing Rules" which govern the details of daily procedure. In addition, there are "Joint Rules" which are adopted by both houses to govern the transactions between the senate and the assembly. There are also certain additional procedural requirements contained in the constitution and in state statutes.
Throughout the two-year legislative session, there are a series of deadlines that proposed legislation must meet if it is to be enacted. These deadlines are important in that a "crunch period" often develops immediately prior to each deadline day. During these "crunch periods," legislation can move very fast and immediate response by local trustees and state association representatives is most critical.
The presiding officer of the assembly is the Speaker. Elected by a majority vote of the members, the Speaker appoints all assembly committee chairs and members except the Rules Committee. The Speaker also appoints a personal representative on the floor, the Majority Leader who assists the Speaker in the conduct of the business of the assembly. The minority caucus chooses the Minority Floor Leader as its representative on the Assembly Floor. The Assembly Rules Committee (ARC) serves primarily as the executive committee for the assembly. Committee membership is highly sought after. The committee is responsible for assigning bills to committees, setting salaries for legislative staff, waiving rules and overseeing the business of the assembly.
California's Lieutenant Governor is President of the senate, although actual leadership of the "Upper House" is vested in the President pro Tempore who serves as chair of the Rules Committee. The senators elect both the President pro Tempore and the five members of the Rules Committee. This powerful committee appoints all other committees, assigns bills to those committees, makes recommendations to the full senate on gubernatorial appointments, and bears responsibility for administering all business functions of the senate including personnel and fiscal matters. The majority and minority political caucuses also select a Majority Floor Leader, a Minority Floor Leader, and caucus chairpersons.
There are three basic types of legislation: bills, constitutional amendments, and resolutions. Only legislators and legislative committees can author these measures. The governor cannot introduce legislation, but can ask a legislator to introduce legislation. The governor's budget is carried in the form of a legislative bill, authored by a legislator. Legislators, special interest groups, staff members, constituents, and government agencies, as well as a variety of other sources, generate ideas for legislation.
A bill is a proposed law. It can be enacted by a majority vote in both houses unless it is an urgency measure or carries an appropriation, in which case a two-thirds vote of approval is required. Constitutional amendments are proposed changes to the state constitution and a two-thirds vote of each house will place one of these measures on the ballot for voter consideration.
Resolutions are merely statements of legislative viewpoint and lack the force of law. They may be addressed to other governmental agencies, describe state general policy, or commend or memorialize someone. They are normally passed by voice vote. Constitutional amendments and resolutions, unlike bills, are not subject to gubernatorial review.
When a member introduces a bill, its title is read and it is printed. Then the Assembly or Senate Rules Committee assigns it to a committee. The committee hearing is the most crucial stage in the legislative process, for it is at this point that the fate of legislation is most often determined. Following public hearing, the committee can kill the measure, send it to another committee, or pass it to the floor as is or with recommended amendments. If a bill passed by a policy committee has fiscal implications, the fiscal committee also must review it. Action on bills in committee requires a majority vote based on full committee membership.
When it reaches the floor, the bill's title is read a second time, amendments are often made, and the legislation is placed on the agenda for debate (third reading). After debate, a roll call is taken. If the bill is passed, it is sent to the other house where the process is repeated. If the bill is amended in the second house, it must return to the house of origin for acceptance or rejection of the amendments. If approved at this point, the bill goes to the governor for signature or veto. If the amendments are rejected, a conference committee of three members of each house is formed to reach accord on any differences. A bill goes to the governor if both houses approve a conference committee recommendation.
Any bill introduced during the first year of the biennium of the legislative session that has not been passed by the house of origin by January 31 of the second calendar year of the biennium may no longer be acted on by the house. No bill may be passed by either house on or after September 1 of an even-numbered year except statutes calling elections, statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for the usual current expenses of the state, and urgency statutes and bills passed after being vetoed by the governor.
The governor may reduce or eliminate one or more items of appropriation while approving other portions of a bill.