Capitol myth vs. reality, Part Deux

State Capitol in Sacramento. (Photo: Shuttesrstock)

Welcome to Part II of our series on the myths and realities of legislative procedure. This time we’ll take a look at how bills are amended and moved around. After our earlier piece appeared, one reader called to thank us – he said it helped him sleep at night. We’re glad we were able to help.

And now to the bills: There’s a lot going on here …

Misconception: Lawmakers can add an urgency clause to any bill.
Reality: Nope
The state constitution says an urgency statute “may not create or abolish any office or change the salary, term, or duties of any office, or grant any franchise or special privilege, or create any vested right or interest.”

Misconception: A bill returning on concurrence can be amended. (This is a popular misconception, by the way.)
Reality: Nope
A bill cannot be amended when it returns to its house of origin for a concurrence vote. The amendment(s) can be concurred in or not concurred in (which results in a conference committee to resolve the differences between the two versions).

Misconception: Submitting bill amendments follows the same procedure in both houses.
Reality: No.
Assembly amendments have to be submitted by 5 p.m. or the close of session the day before a deadline.  The Senate does not have the same rule.

Misconception: Bill amendments need a majority vote of a committee or the floor for adoption.
Reality: Believe it or not, the answer is no.
Amendments to a measure can be made by a majority vote of those present and voting, rather than a majority of the committee or floor members.

Misconception: A bill cannot be amended during the 30 days following its introduction.
Reality: Nope.
Once a bill has been referred to committee, the Assembly permits pre-committee author’s amendments to bills within the 30 day period, while the Senate does not permit this.

Misconception: All amendments must be germane to the original bill.
Reality: True, sort of.
While technically true, germaneness is determined on the floor by a majority vote of the house’s membership. The matter is subject to final determination by the full Assembly or the Senate Committee on Rules.

Misconception: A conference committee cannot approve substantial policy changes if that proposed change was defeated in a policy committee.
Reality: Usually, yes.
That is the general rule. However, it does not apply to the budget bill or the budget trailer bills. The substantial policy change had to have been defeated in a policy committee during the current legislative session.

Misconception: Floor amendments may be made at any time.
Reality: Nope, but it gets a little tricky.
There are limitations to making floor amendments. For example, a motion to amend on the Assembly floor is not in order at certain times — the last two days before the Jan. 31 deadline, or the last seven days before the interim or final recess,  unless this rule is suspended by a 2/3 majority vote.

Misconception: – The Appropriations Committees determine whether bills have a fiscal impact and, therefore, are referred to the fiscal committees for consideration.
Reality: No
The Legislative Counsel determines that a bill is fiscal without any input from the Department of Finance, Legislative Analyst or the Appropriations Committees. According to one estimate, about 80% of bills are deemed by Legislative Counsel to have a fiscal impact.

Misconception: Bills can be voted upon after midnight on Aug. 31 so long as the “clock is stopped.”
Reality: Yes and No.
There is no provision in the law to “stop the clock” and the state constitution prohibits bills from being considered after Aug. 31 in the second year of a session. But there are specific exceptions: Statutes calling elections, urgency statutes and statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for the usual current expenses of the State. These are the only measures that can be considered after midnight on Aug. 31.

Misconception: The Joint Rules related to committee deadlines apply to all measures.
Reality: Nope.
Bills related to the budget are exempt from these deadlines

Misconception: All measures introduced in the first year of the session must pass out of their house of origin by Jan. 31 of the second year.
This is the general rule for bills, but it does not apply to constitutional amendments.

MisconceptionA bill may not be introduced in the first or second year of the regular session after specified dates.
Reality: Nope.
These deadlines do not apply to constitutional amendments, committee bills, or bills introduced with permission of the Assembly Speaker or the Senate Rules Committee pursuant to Joint Rule 54.

Ed’s Note: This is the latest in a series of stories about the rules of law making in the state Capitol. Chris Micheli is a registered lobbyist with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law.

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