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Frequently Asked Questions about the Legislative Process in California

How many legislators are needed to conduct official legislative business?

By Chris Micheli, October 26, 2023 2:45 am

For those not familiar, I put together the following questions and answers for those queries that are most often posed regarding the legislative process in California.

When does the Legislature’s regular session convene? At noon on the first Monday in December in the even-numbered year, such as December 5, 2022

How long is the Legislature’s regular session? 2 years, like the U.S. Congress

When does the 2-year session conclude? At midnight on November 30 of the following even-numbered year.

What is a special session? “On extraordinary occasions the Governor by proclamation may cause the Legislature to assemble in special session.”

How many legislators are needed to conduct official legislative business? A majority of the membership constitutes a quorum.

Do legislative committee hearings have to be open to the public? Yes, the proceedings of each house and their committees must be open and public. In addition, every meeting of each house and standing committee or subcommittee where a vote is to be taken on a bill, or amendments to a bill, must be public.

Can a member of the public make audio or visual recording of legislative proceedings? Yes, the have the right to record by audio or video means any and all parts of the proceedings and to broadcast or otherwise transmit them, but the Legislature can adopt reasonable rules regulating those recordings.

Is the Legislature allowed to meet in closed sessions? Yes, there are four major reasons provided for the Legislature to conduct closed sessions (personnel; safety and security; legal counsel; and, party caucuses).

Is there a time limit before an introduced bill can be acted upon by legislators? Yes, with the exception of budget bills, no regular session bill can be heard or acted on until the 31st day it is in print, unless the requirement is dispensed with by a ¾ vote.

How many readings of a bill are required? A bill must be read by its Title on 3 days in each house before it can be passed, unless the requirement is dispensed with by a 2/3 vote.

What is the minimum vote required for a bill to be passed by either house? No bill may be passed unless a majority of the membership of each house concurs.

How long must a bill be available to legislators and the public on the Internet before it can be voted on? At least 72 hours before the vote.

Are there bill introduction limitations on legislators? Yes, current house rules provide that Assembly Members can introduce a maximum of 50 bills per Session and Senators can introduce a maximum of 40 bills per Session, absent a rule waiver.

When do regular session bills normally take effect? January 1 of the following year after the date of enactment, unless it is one that takes effect immediately upon chaptering.

When do special session bills normally take effect? On the 91st day after adjournment of the special session.

Are there any bills that take immediate effect? Yes, statutes calling elections, statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for the usual current expenses of the State, and urgency statutes go into effect immediately upon their enactment.

How is an urgency bill voted on? A roll call vote is required for both the urgency clause and the bill itself by a 2/3 vote of each house.

Can a bill contain multiple subjects? No, a bill can embrace only one subject which is expressed in its Title.

Must a California statute be re-enacted when it is amended? Yes, A section of a statute may not be amended unless the section is re-enacted as amended.”

Must a bill be signed by the Governor to become a statute? It becomes a statute if it is signed by the Governor. Also, if the Governor does not sign or veto the bill within the required time period, then the bill will become a statute.

How is a bill vetoed? The Governor may veto a bill by returning it with any objections to the house of origin.

Can a Governor’s veto be overridden? Yes, if each house then passes the bill by rollcall vote entered in the journal, two-thirds of the membership concurring, the bill becomes a statute.

How long does the Legislature have to consider a veto? The Legislature may consider a Governor’s veto for only 60 days, not counting days when the Legislature is in joint recess.

Can a bill introduced in the first of the session be considered in the second year? Yes, so long as the bill is passed by the house of origin by January 31 of the second calendar year.

In the second year of the session, can bills be considered on or after September 1? Only those bills call an election, provide for a tax levy, provide for an appropriation for the usual current expenses of the State, contain an urgency clause, or have been vetoed by the Governor.

Does the Governor have line-item veto authority? Yes, the Governor may reduce or eliminate one or more items of appropriation while approving other portions of a bill.

How is an appropriation vetoed? The Governor must append to the bill a statement of the items reduced or eliminated with the reasons for the action

Can a line-item veto be overridden? Yes. Items reduced or eliminated must be separately reconsidered and may be passed over the Governor’s veto in the same manner as bills.

How are the Legislature’s committees determined? The Legislature or either house may by resolution provide for the selection of committees necessary for the conduct of its business. In addition, each house must appoint standing committees as the business of the house may require, the committees, the number of members, and the manner of selection to be determined by the rules of each house.

When is the Governor required to submit the proposed budget to the Legislature? Within 10 days of each calendar year (i.e., by January 10).

What must be included in the Governor’s budget? It must include an explanatory message and a budget for the ensuing fiscal year containing itemized statements for recommended state expenditures and estimated state revenues.

Does the Governor’s budget have to be introduced in the Legislature? Yes, the budget bill is required to be introduced immediately in each house by the persons chairing the committees that consider the budget.

When must the Legislature pass the budget? It must do so by midnight on June 15 of each year.

Does the Legislature have to pass a balanced budget? Yes, the Governor must propose a balanced budget and the Legislature must enact a balanced budget, pursuant to the Constitution

What is the vote requirement for a bill making a General Fund appropriation? 2/3, unless it is an appropriation for public schools or the budget bill, budget bill junior, or budget trailer bill, in which case it is a majority vote.

Are the budget bills junior and budget trailer bills part of the budget bill? Yes, “other bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill” consist only of bills identified as related to the budget in the budget bill passed by the Legislature.

What is the difference between general and special statutes? “All laws of a general nature have uniform operation. A local or special statute is invalid in any case if a general statute can be made applicable.”

Is the legislative calendar officially adopted each year? Yes, and most of the dates are set forth at the start of the 2-year Session pursuant to Joint Rule 51. 

Can the Legislature be recalled from its recess? Yes, the Legislature may be recalled from joint recess and reconvene in regular session by one of three specified means.

Is there a deadline for introducing bills? Yes, it is usually the third Friday in February, and is set forth in Joint Rule 54.

What are “two-year bills”? Bills introduced in the first year of the regular session and passed by the house of origin on or before the January 31st constitutional deadline are “carryover bills.” Immediately after January 31, bills introduced in the first year of the regular session that do not become “carryover bills” shall be returned to the Chief Clerk of the Assembly or Secretary of the Senate. This rule does not apply to constitutional amendments.

Are deadlines established for bills to move through the legislative process? Yes, Joint Rule 61 deadlines are observed by the Senate and Assembly.

Is prior notice given on when committees meet and consider measures? Yes, notice of a hearing on a bill by the committee of first reference in each house, or notice of an informational hearing, must be published in the Daily File at least four days prior to the hearing. Otherwise, notice is to be published in the Daily File two days prior to the hearing.

What is engrossing and enrolling? When a bill is amended, the printed form of the bill is proofread by staff to assure that the amendments are inserted properly. After being proofread, the bill is “correctly engrossed” and is deemed to be in proper form. Whenever a bill passes both houses of the Legislature, it is ordered enrolled. In enrollment, the bill is again proofread for accuracy and then delivered to the Governor.

Do committees require a motion and a second prior to voting on measures? In the Senate, to vote on a bill only requires an initial motion; however, in the Assembly, a motion and a second are required before a bill can be voted on by committee members.

Can legislators change their votes? The Assembly allows its Members to add or change votes after the vote has been announced, so long as the final vote is not impacted. The Senate does not allow this, except for the President pro Tempore and the Republican Leader, so long as the final outcome of the bill is not affected (pursuant to Senate Rule 44).

Do legislators have immunity for their statements on legislation? The Legislative Privilege, which is codified in California Civil Code Section 47, applies to statements made in official proceedings.

How many options does the Governor have regarding a bill on the Desk? The Governor has three possible actions when a bill presented to him or her. True – the Governor may sign a bill, veto a bill, or allow a bill to become law without his or her signature.

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