Many people are intimidated by the procedure and ceremony surrounding the legislative process. This makes it difficult for them to participate in local government and give input on how to address issues that directly impact their communities.
However, when broken down, how ideas turn into bills and bills turn into laws is simple to understand. Take a look at the step-by-step process of how a bill becomes a law.
Legislators gather facts and ideas
All bills begin as concerns about some problem in a community or as ideas about how to make improvements to a process or situation in a given area.
Legislators hear from their constituents about issues affecting their communities, from lobbyists and activists, from special interest groups — including non-governmental organizations, businesses and non-profits — from the governor, or from other members of the legislature. This information inspires the creation of bills.
Request is drafted, researched and assigned a number
After getting ideas for bills, legislators gather information from a variety of sources and prepare requests for bills to submit to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.
"Legislators are all part-time lawmakers and full-time something else," said Cameron Diehl, an attorney and the director of government relations at the Utah League of Cities and Towns. "They are public servants who rely on the expertise of others. If you're an expert or know a lot about an issue, reach out to your legislators with your valuable opinions."
Next, the bill has fiscal, statutory and constitutional reviews. The bill is prepared in proper technical form and assigned a number, which Utah constituents and other legislators can use to track it.
The Utah State Legislature has online tools for tracking bills. You can search using keywords and create a list of up to 150 bills that you want to be notified about as they move through the process of being enacted.
Bill is introduced to the Legislature
The Utah Legislature has a 45-day period to consider bills at the Capitol.
Sometimes there are many bills to consider. For example, in 2016, a record number of bills (1,237 total) was introduced at the beginning of the Utah House's 45-day session.
Bills go to standing committees for public testimony
After bills are introduced to the Legislature, the Legislature's Rules Committee recommends which standing committees should take the bills.
A list of Utah's standing committees is available online. These specialized groups, comprised of legislators, are knowledgeable about specific subjects, including health and human services, economic development, and revenue and taxation. The president of the Senate and Speaker of the House make committee chair assignments.
Standing committees hold open meetings, wherein the public can give testimony about the potential impact or sensibility of bills being considered.
"The most effective or persuasive testimonies depend on the specific bill and committee," Diehl said. "What works for one may not for another."
Bill returns to full house for debate
The committees make reports on the bills being considered and return them to the full house with a favorable recommendation or with amendments, or they table bills they deem unacceptable.
Next, the House and Senate debate bills in open sessions. Party caucuses play a role in presenting partisan support for or opposition to controversial bills — meaning Democrat and Republican groups band together to respond to bills.
"If you disagree with the content of a bill or oppose it, you can notify the bill sponsor and explain why you disagree," Diehl said. "Depending on where the bill is, you can contact the Utah House or Senate to voice your concerns."
Bill passes through both houses
In order to pass the Senate, a bill needs at least 15 votes. The House requires at least 38 votes to pass. Each bill needs to pass through both houses and be signed by the Senate President and Speaker of the House.
Governor takes action
The bill in its final form, called an enrolled bill, is presented to the governor, who can sign it, let the bill become a law without a signature, or veto it.
Sixty days after adjournment, or on the date specified on the bill, it becomes effective and is officially a law.
Read more from the Utah League of Cities and Towns on DeseretNews.com or visit their website at ulct.org.