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Session News: Learn how a bill becomes a law as house of origin cutoff approaches

UW President Ana Mari Cauce & Sen. Javier Valdez

It’s day 36 of the 60-day legislative session. UW President Ana Mari Cauce and UW Medicine CEO Tim Dellit were in Olympia today championing the UW’s legislative requests before the House and Senate release their operating and capital budget proposals. The Senate will unveil their proposals first with the House following closely after.

Tomorrow is house of origin cutoff, meaning that bills that do not pass out of the chamber they were introduced in are considered dead unless necessary to implement the budget (NTIB). For those not familiar with Washington’s legislative process, the legislative cycle is two-years and in the first year of the biennium, odd-numbered years, the legislature meets for 105 calendar days to write and pass the state’s two-year operating, capital, and transportation budgets. In the second year of the biennium, even-numbered years, the legislature meets for a short, 60-day session, where they make edits to the budgets passed in the previous session.

In addition to budget work, bills are introduced, debated, and passed during session. The chamber, House of Representatives or Senate, a bill is introduced in is considered its “house of origin.” After a bill is introduced, it’s first referred to a policy, or subject-matter, committee for consideration. For example, legislation introduced in the Senate concerning higher education student support services will be sent to the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development committee. The policy committee will then hold a public hearing on the bill to get stakeholder input and decide whether or not to vote to move it out of committee. They may pass a bill out of committee as is or choose to amend it. They may also opt not to take any action on a bill.

After legislation moves out of its policy committee, it is referred to a fiscal committee if it impacts one or more of the state’s budgets. In the House, these committees are Appropriations, Capital Budget, Finance, and Transportation. In the Senate, they are Way & Means and Transportation. These committees are led by the state’s budget writers, but the process remains the same as in the policy committees. If a policy is not voted out of its house of origin policy or fiscal committees by specific cutoff dates, it is considered dead unless necessary to implement the budget (NTIB).

From this point, bills are sent to their house of origin Rules Committee, which decides which bills will be considered for floor debate. Members of the committee “pull” bills out of Rules and place them on the floor calendar for consideration by the entire chamber of the House or Senate. They may also choose not to take action on a bill. Essentially, committees act as a funnel; thinning and prioritizing what legislation will continue to move through the process toward becoming law.

Next up is floor action. The floor is where the entire chamber of the House or Senate hear a bill, debate on it, and take a vote. They may also amend legislation being considered. If no action is taken on policy in the Rules Committee or on the floor, the bill is moved to the X-File, where it is no longer eligible for consideration.

Once a bill has passed off the floor, it must go to the opposite chamber and repeat the process. House bills are heard in the Senate and vice versa. If the opposite chamber amends a bill, the house of origin must concur with the changes or work with the opposite chamber to reconcile the different versions of the bill. Ultimately, both chambers must pass the same version of the bill.

When both chambers pass a bill, it is signed by the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate and sent to the Governor’s desk. The Governor then must decide to sign the bill into law or veto all or part of it. If a bill is signed into law, it becomes part of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW).

For questions about the legislative process of the UW’s legislative priorities, contact the Office of State Relations here.