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Understanding the legislative process.

How a Bill Becomes a Law in Washington State

The starting point for any bill is an idea! The idea can come from a variety of sources, including members of the public, state agencies, professional organizations, work groups, the governor, or a legislator. Following collaboration between interested parties and staff to draft the bill text, it must be introduced by a member of the state Senate or House of Representatives.

A bill is considered officially filed when a copy has been delivered to the Office of the Code Reviser via a wooden box known as the "hopper."

The bill is then given a number and referred to the committee that best fits the topic of the bill to be considered eligible for a public hearing. Most bills that the WSMA engages on are sent to the legislative health care committees. Pro tip! HB and SB are shorthand for "House bill" and "Senate bill."

Once a bill moves into its respective committee, the chair of the committee decides whether a public hearing will be held. Depending on committee priorities and a range of other factors, some bills may never be scheduled for a public hearing and are considered to "die" in committee. Ultimately, the committee can pass, reject, or take no action on a bill.

Following passage in its policy committee, a bill is either sent to:

  • The Senate Ways and Means or House Appropriations committee if the bill has a potential fiscal impact for another public hearing. Following the passage of the fiscal committee, the bill would then be sent to the Rules Committee.
  • The Rules Committee if there is no fiscal impact. However, all bills must pass through the Rules Committee before becoming eligible for floor debate, as it is often referred to as the "gatekeeping committee."

When a bill is referred to the Rules Committee, it will remain there until a legislator on the Rules Committee "pulls" the bill in order to place it on the floor calendar for consideration.

The entire chamber (either Senate or House) considers, debates, and may amend the bill during floor action before being placed on the third reading calendar for final passage.

After passing one chamber (known as its "house of origin"), the bill goes through the same procedure in the other chamber.

If amendments are made in the other chamber, the differing versions of the bill must be reconciled, as ultimately the bill must be approved by the House and Senate in identical form.

When the bill is approved by both chambers, it is signed by the respective leaders (the Speaker of the House and the president of the Senate) and sent to the governor.

The governor signs the bill into law or may veto all or part of it. If the governor fails to act on the bill, it may become law without a signature.

You can check out this video to see an overview of the legislative process in under five minutes! Learn more about the legislative branch and its functions on the Teach with TVW webpage.

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