In the weeds: A close look at bills, amendments, resolutions

The state Capitol in Sacramento, viewed from 10th Street toward the West Steps.(Photo: Timothy Boomer)

In the state Capitol, there are three types of measures that can be considered by California lawmakers – bills, constitutional amendments and resolutions. All are printed by the Office of State Publishing and are made publicly available –usually by the next day – online and at the Bill Room in the basement of the old section of the state Capitol.

Let’s first take a look at the bills, which are at the heart of the Legislature’s duties.

Generally, no bill (except the budget bill) may be heard by any committee or acted upon by either house until the 31st day after the bill is in print. This requirement can be waived with a three-fourths vote of the house of origin.

Only lawmakers can author bills. Bills must be passed by both houses of the Legislature to be acted upon by the governor, who must sign them into law, veto them or allow them to become law without a signature. Statutes can only be enacted through bills.

The following are the types of bills that people working in and around the Capitol describe in their legislative dealings:
Appropriation bill, which contains language that appropriates funds for expenditures by the state.
Author-sponsored bill, which is based on an idea of the author, who is the official sponsor.
–Backed bill, which is a bill ready for introduction because it has a “backing” (formally called a jacket) that identifies the author.
–Budget bill, the main legislation that makes appropriations for implementation of the state’s fiscal year spending (the secondary bill is referred to as the “budget bill junior”)
Clean-up bill, which “cleans-up” – makes changes — to a law following the enactment of a prior bill that needed to be modified.
Committee bill, which is a bill authored by the majority of a committee. It is usually used for enacting non-controversial law changes.
District bill, which only applies to the legislator’s own district, such as legislation benefiting a local transit district, for example.
Fiscal bill, which must go through the fiscal committee after it has passed the policy committee.
Intent bill, which reflects the intent of the Legislature to act on a specific topic. It serves as a placeholder for a later, detailed piece of legislation.
–Omnibus bill, which is a measure that contains numerous changes to the law, generally suggested by a group, such as civil law changes recommended by the Judicial Council.
–Special interest bill, which is sponsored by a particular interest group.
–Sponsored bill, a bill sponsored by an interest group or an individual.
–Spot bill, which makes technical, non-substantive changes in the law as a placeholder for a later bill. Neither house’s Rules Committee will refer spot bills to a policy committee until they are substantively amended.
Trailer bill, which puts into effect changes in law as part of the budget adoption; these bills “trail” the main budget bill.
Two-year bill, carries over from the first year of session into the second year of the session.
Unbacked bill, a bill that does not yet have an author and no “backing” for introduction.

The provisions of a bill:
–The amendment date(s) are listed at the top of the first page.
–Then comes the bill number.
–The principal author is listed next. If there are coauthors, their names are listed under the bill’s author in alphabetical order.
–Next comes the date that the bill was introduced.
–Then comes the title, which identifies the code section(s) the bill is affecting and contains a relating clause.
–The Legislative Counsel’s Digest follows next and is a brief summary of the existing law and the changes the bill proposes to make to that existing law(s). The Digest is found on the front of each bill.
–Vote keys are part of the Digest. They identify the vote required to pass the bill, whether the bill makes an appropriation, whether the bill will be heard in the fiscal committee, and whether the bill contains a state-mandated local program.
–The Enacting Clause is contained in each bill, saying “The People of the State of California do enact as follows…”
–Finally comes the actual bill language that will become law if the bill is adopted. Note that the bill contains strikeout text, showing that words are being deleted, while italicized words indicate new provisions in the bill.

A bill either proposes a new law or amends or repeals an existing law. The Constitution provides that every act can only embrace one subject and that subject must be expressed in the title of the measure (this is the so-called “single subject rule”).  The courts have been very liberal in their construction of what must be contained in the title of a bill.

Urgency bills require facts backing up the need to deal with the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety.

Under the Joint Rules of the Assembly and Senate, the title of every bill introduced must convey an accurate idea of the contents of the bill and must indicate the scope of the act and the object to be accomplished. In amending a code section, the mere reference to the section by number is not deemed sufficient to meet this rule.

A bill may not be introduced unless it is contained in a cover (called the “jacket”) attached by the Legislative Counsel and it is accompanied by a digest showing the changes in the existing law that are proposed by the bill.

The rules also say that whenever a bill is amended in either house, the Secretary of the Senate or the Chief Clerk of the Assembly must request the Legislative Counsel to prepare an amended digest and cause it to be printed on the first page of the bill as amended.

In a bill amending or repealing a code section or a general law, any new matter is underlined, and any matter to be omitted is in type bearing a horizontal line through the center and commonly known as “strikeout” type. When printed, the new matter is printed in italics, and the matter to be omitted is printed in “strikeout”.

In an amendment to a bill that sets out for the first time a section being amended or repealed, any new matter to be added and any matter to be omitted is indicated by the author and is printed in the same manner as though the section as amended or repealed was a part of the original bill and was being printed for the first time.

Urgency bills require facts backing up the need to deal with the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety. To take effect immediately, the bill must receive, upon a separate roll call vote entered in the Daily Journals, a two-thirds vote of the membership of both houses.

The text of a bill provides valuable information about the measure. By looking at information such as the bill type, the author, the introduction date, title, the digest, and the actual proposed law, you can tell a lot about the journey the bill will take through the Legislature.

Every time a bill is amended, a new version of the bill will be printed. Any text that has been deleted from the previous version will be in strikeout type and any new text will be in italics.

Knowing the authors and co-authors provides you with information on who to contact in support of or opposition to the bill. Also knowing information about the author, such as his or her background, committees serving on, political party, and political clout can allow you to predict the success of the measure.

The introduction date tells you when to expect action to begin. Bills must be in print for 30 days before any action can be taken (unless the rule is waived by the house). This allows interested parties time to prepare information on these bills, working with authors on amendments, complaints or suggestions.

The title of a bill identifies the sections of law that are affected by the bill. These sections inform you of the status of existing law and let you know how the existing law will be changed by this bill. These sections can also serve as a key to other bills affecting the same area, as well as aid in determining which policy committee a bill may be referred to.

The Legislative Counsel prepares a nonpartisan summary of each piece of legislation. This summary may act as a short cut for screening bills. Also provided at the end of the Digest are important pieces of information (called the “keys”) such as whether the bill has a fiscal impact, an appropriation, contains an urgency clause, the vote requirements for the bill, and whether or not the bill includes a state-mandated program.

Keep in mind that every time a bill is amended, a new version of the bill will be printed. Any text that has been deleted from the previous version will be in strikeout type and any new text will be in italics. Remember that the changes reflect only those changes from the previous version — not the introduced version. Check the top of the bill in order to be sure you have the most recent version of the bill. You can also check the History for the most recent amendment date.

Constitutional Amendments
The Legislature may place measures on the statewide ballot for a vote by the people.

These are called constitutional amendments and they are known as “ACAs” – for Assembly Constitutional Amendments – or “SCAs” for those originating in the Senate. Constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature require a two-thirds majority vote of each house for passage, instead of a simple majority vote. Also, constitutional amendments are not sent to the Governor for signature or veto. Rather, they are placed on the next statewide ballot.

Note, the two-thirds vote requirement applies to floor votes in the Legislature. Once on the ballot, if a simple majority of voters support the measure, then the changes or additions become a part of the California Constitution.

In the Capitol, all constitutional amendments are referred to the policy standing committees having jurisdiction of that subject matter and, upon being reported out of that committee, are then re-referred to the committee having constitutional amendments within its jurisdiction. ACAs and SCAs may also be heard by the fiscal committees in each house prior to reaching the respective floors of the Assembly or Senate.

Resolutions don’t carry the force of law. They are a formal expression of views by lawmakers on key public issues.

There are three types of resolutions that can be considered by the Assembly and Senate.  One is used by either house individually (i.e., it only passes a single house in order to take effect), while the other two (concurrent resolutions and joint resolutions) require adoption by both houses of the Legislature before they can take effect.

House Resolutions (the term used in the Assembly) and Senate Resolutions are adopted by the house of origin only. All resolutions require a majority vote to pass and they are not subject to deadlines or waiting periods.  As such, they may be acted upon in short order.

Joint resolutions are used for matters related to the federal government.  They express a position of the California Legislature regarding pending congressional legislation. Joint resolutions take effect upon their being filed with the Secretary of State.

Concurrent resolutions are used for matters to be handled by both houses of the Legislature.  They are used to create joint committees of the Legislature, memorialize former legislators, and for other limited purposes.  Concurrent resolutions take effect upon their being filed with the Secretary of State.

Ed’s Note: Chris Micheli is an attorney and registered lobbyist at the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law.

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