Only a Bill, Sitting Here in… Harrisburg

(January 27, 2023) If you tell me that you never heard the Schoolhouse Rock “How a Bill Becomes a Law” song as a kid, I don’t believe you. More than anything else I learned in third grade social studies, that poor little bill hoping and praying to become a law is still with me to this day. How does the legislative process work at the state level, though? Is the process similar to the federal process you learned when you were eight? Generally speaking, it is, and below is an example of a bill that went through all the right steps. Throughout our blog, the Allies for Children team will highlight bills that take many detours along this path, but for today – let’s focus on one that stayed on course and made its way to the Governor’s desk.

Let’s use a bill that Allies for Children was recently following as an example: The Childhood Blood Lead Test Act. The history of each bill that’s introduced in Pennsylvania can be found on the General Assembly’s website. If you’d like to follow along with the process for this bill, it can be found here.

Each bill is introduced by a member or members of the General Assembly – in this case, it was Senator Lisa Baker, who represents District 20 in northeast PA. This person is known as the “sponsor” of the bill. The bill is then assigned a number by the chief clerk. Our bill was designated SB 522, meaning that it was introduced in the Senate (bills introduced in the House are designated HB). After being introduced, the bill is then assigned to a relevant standing committee. SB 522 was introduced and referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on April 9, 2021.

Once in committee, the bill is reviewed and the committee has an opportunity to amend it. In this case, SB 522 was amended before being reported back to the Senate on December 14, 2021. Typically, bills will be reviewed separately by the majority and minority caucuses of the chamber before they are considered on the floor, so that each party can decide whether or not to support the bill.

A bill must be presented for consideration on the chamber floor on three separate dates. The first is simply to introduce the bill with no debate or amendments. After having at least 15 legislative days to review the bill, amendments may be added on the second day of consideration. The bill may be referred to the chamber’s Appropriations Committee if it will involve state funds, which SB 522 was on the date of its second consideration, February 7, 2022. After the Appropriations Committee re-reports the bill back to the chamber, it can then be considered for a third time. At this third consideration, remarks and debate can occur, to be followed by a vote. The Senate voted to approve SB 522 on June 13, 2022, and as with all bills, the remarks and debate can be read in the Senate Legislative Journal (see page 505).

Once a bill is passed in one chamber, it is sent to the other, where the process starts over again. SB 522 was assigned to the PA House of Representatives Committee on Children and Youth on June 14, 2022, and, after amendment, was reported to the House floor on September 21. Just like in the Senate, the bill was introduced on a first date of consideration and then was sent to the House Appropriations Committee after its second consideration on October 25, 2022. The House Appropriations Committee made an amendment before reporting it back to the House floor on October 26, where it was then considered for the final time and the members of the House voted to pass the bill.

If, upon consideration by the second chamber of the General Assembly, no amendments were made to the bill, it could be sent right on to the Governor’s desk. Because the House did amend SB 522, though, it was referred back to the Senate so that the Senate could concur with the changes that the House had made.

After being signed by both chambers on October 26, 2022, SB 522 was presented to the Governor and was signed into law on November 3, 2022. The Governor, of course, has the power to veto any bill if they do not approve of it. In the event that a bill has not been sent to the Governor for signature by the end of a legislative session, it must be reintroduced in the next session so that the newly elected legislature can review and debate the bill, completely restarting the process covered above. Luckily for SB 522, it did get approved by both chambers of the General Assembly and signed by Governor Wolf before the legislative session ended at the end of 2022. Now, it is Act No. 150 of 2022!

If you would like a more detailed explanation of each of these steps when it comes to approving legislation, this resource from the PA House of Representatives is quite helpful. Hopefully, though, this helped you to have a more complete understanding of how the legislative process works here in Pennsylvania!

P.S. – Here you go. I’ll save you the Google search.

Laura Condon, Allies for Children Project Coordinator