Legislative Process & Terms
The legislative process and terms are provided in rough chronological order. If you are having trouble finding a specific term, use the (Ctrl+F) function to search this page. The Washington Legislature hosts an alphabetized glossary with many of these terms but less commentary on the process, as well as a quick overview of How a Bill Becomes a Law.
First reading: The first action taken on potential legislation, when the bill is introduced and read on the floor of the House of Origin. The leadership then refers the bill to a committee.
- House of Origin / First House: The chamber in which a piece of legislation originates. Can be the House or the Senate.
- Pre-filed bill: A bill which is submitted for introduction/first reading before the legislative session begins. Pre-filed bills are introduced on the first day of the session.
- Companion bill: A bill introduced with the same language in both the House and the Senate.
Referred to committee: When a bill is introduced, it first must be passed by a committee before it can be voted on by the chamber (i.e. the floor). After the first reading, the leadership decides the most relevant committee for the bill and refers it to that committee.
- Policy Committee: Any non-fiscal committee which considers legislation. A policy committee’s primary role is to review and amend legislation before sending it to the House or Senate floor for a vote. Examples include Higher Education, Transportation, Technology and Economic Development, and many others.
- Fiscal Committee: Any committee that deals with the allocation of funds or the raising of revenue. The House Finance Committee and Appropriation Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee are fiscal committees.
- Public Hearing: A legislative committee meeting at which members of the public, experts, and other stakeholders present testimony on matters under consideration (usually bills) by the committee. Denoted as “public” because it is open to public attendance and viewing and to distinguish it from a closed hearing, which is for committee members and witnesses only. You can watch public hearings online at http://www.tvw.org/
- Executive Session: A meeting for committee members to discuss and take action on bills they wish to report out of committee. These meetings are open to the public but no testimony is taken. Note that in other contexts executive sessions are closed to the public. You can watch executive sessions online at http://www.tvw.org/
Passed out of committee/reported by committee: A bill is passed out of committee or reported by committee when a majority of the committee has voted to move the bill to the next step in the legislative process. A bill can be passed out of committee in three ways: 1) Do pass, or pass the bill as is; 2) Do pass as amended, or pass the bill as amended by the committee; or 3) Do pass substitute, in which the committee offers a substitute version of the bill. Committees can also refer bills to other committees, if they feel that it is warranted or if there are elements of the bill which are outside the purview of the committee.
- Committee amendment: An amendment proposed in a committee meeting.
- Substitute bill: A version of a bill offered by a committee in the first chamber. If adopted, the substitute replaces the original bill or resolution.
- Second substitute bill: A substitute of a substitute bill.
Rules Committee: After a policy committee has reported a bill, they send it to the Rules Committee, which decides if and when the legislation will go to the floor for a vote. The Rules Committee is primarily a tool of the leadership, allowing them to exercise control over what bills do and do not get voted on.
- X-file: The term for the action House and Senate Rules Committees take on bills that will go no further in the process. Often occurs with the less active half of a companion bill.
- Place on calendar: The term for when the Rules Committee has decided to send a bill to the floor for a vote—they will schedule it for a vote on a chamber’s calendar.
- Second reading: The second time the legislation is read on the floor. The chamber discusses the merits of the legislation and members can offer amendments to the bill.
- Floor amendment: An amendment proposed on the floor of a legislative chamber. Can include a substitute.
Third reading: The third time the legislation is read on the floor. It is after the third reading that a floor vote is taken. If the legislation passes, it moves to the next step of the process; if it fails, the chamber has 24 hours to make a motion to reconsider the bill. Otherwise, the bill dies.
- Necessary to Implement the Budget (NTIB): A bill which is deemed necessary to implement the budget is not dead, even if it does not pass a floor vote and there is no motion to reconsider. This label is used liberally to prevent legislation from dying.
Passed off the floor: An action which refers to a bill which has been approved by the majority of the full House or Senate.
- Striker / striker amendment / striking amendment: Amendment removing everything after the title and inserting a whole new bill. Very similar to a substitute, but because substitutes are not allowed on a chamber floor or in the Second House, strikers are used instead.
Opposite House / Second House: The second chamber to which a piece of legislation moves after it has been passed through its House of Origin. The same process described above is followed in the Second House.
Once a bill has gone through both chambers, differences may need to be reconciled:
- Concurring in amendments: If a bill passes a floor vote in both chambers, but was changed by the Second House, the bill returns to the original house for a vote to concur with amendments from the Second House. Sometimes versions are sent back and forth.
- Conference Committee: A committee consisting of members of both chambers. Conference committees are formed when the original chamber does not agree to the changes to the original bill. A conference committee is formed to try to resolve the differences between versions of the legislation. This frequently occurs with budget bills.
Passed the legislature: An action which refers to a bill which has passed through both Houses and has been signed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. The next—and final step—before the bill becomes law is to send it to the governor’s desk for signing. The governor can either approve the bill in its entirety, veto a section of the bill (called a line-item veto), or veto the entire bill.
General Legislative Terms
Bill sponsors: The Representative or Senator who originally introduced a bill is the sponsor. Other members who sign on are called cosponsors.
Motion: A proposal that the Senate or House take a certain action.
Proposed amendment: An amendment which is still being considered and has not yet been approved.
Proposed substitute: A substitute bill which is still being considered and has not yet been approved.
Engrossed: A term to indicate legislation into which one or more amendments have been incorporated.
Special session: A session of no more than 30 days, convened by the Governor or the Legislature, following adjournment of the regular session. The legislature, upon two-thirds vote of all members, may call itself into special session. The state constitution permits an unlimited amount of special sessions in any given year.
The bill’s webpage: The bill information page on the state legislature website. You can search for a bill by bill number by going to the Bill Information page.
Effect statement: A brief, non-partisan statement on what an amendment does. Often used with striker amendments.
Fiscal note: A non-partisan analysis of the six year fiscal impact of a piece of legislation. Occasionally the period of impact is extended to ten years.
Bill Report: A more comprehensive summary of background and effect of bills, prepared by committee staff.
Bill Digest: A very brief summary of a bill, prepared by the Code Reviser's office.
Visit this page for a quick summary of the legislative process. For a more comprehensive explanation, go here. For a glossary of additional legislative terms prepared by the Washington Legislature, see this website.
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