The Utah State Legislature has a very clear process for how bills are considered and move through to passage. As each bill moves through that process there are many sets of eyes on each bill, including those from members of the public who can comment during committee hearings, who have an opportunity to analyze, debate, and eventually make recommendations on the outcome of the bill.
The organization of that process once bills have made it out of a committee is organized by House and Senate Reading Calendars on the floor of the House and Senate. Calendars contain the list of bills waiting in line to be voted on. A description of each of those calendars follows. It is a helpful reference for understanding our legislative process and why it matters.
To begin with, by legislative rule each bill must be read, which means heard and discussed, three times. The First reading is when the bill is introduced, usually when the staff Reading Secretary reads the number and title of the bill on the chamber floor. After that the bill is assigned to a committee. In the House the committee hearing is considered the Second reading. In the Senate both Second and Third readings occur on the Senate floor, which means the Senate votes twice on each bill, and a bill is not fully passed out of the Senate until it has passed Second and Third reading calendars.
If the bill receives a favorable recommendation from the committee (“passes out”), the committee report is read and adopted on the floor (with no presentation or debate), and then moved to the Third reading calendar (Second in the Senate, see above). The Third reading calendar is what you see above in the photo. In the third reading, the sponsor (legislator who produced the bill or is sponsoring the bill from the other chamber) gives a presentation and then the bill is open to debate. Sometimes it is amended or substituted, and sometimes it is only debated amongst the members. After the debate has concluded, the bill is voted on and moved off the Third reading calendar and over to the other body for their consideration. There are several other Calendars that can be a landing spot for a bill after it has been recommended by a committee: Consent, Concurrence, and Time Certain.
Each Calendar has it’s own rules. For instance, the Consent Calendar means that the bill has received so much support from the Standing Committee that no discussion to the bill is allowed on the floor.
The Concurrence Calendar contains bills that originated as House bills, went to the Senate and were amended there. The House then must vote on whether or not to concur, or approve, the Senate changes.
The Time Certain Calendar contains bills or resolutions that are going to be read at a specific day and time. This is usually because there are members of the community or those involved with the bill who would like to be present in the gallery for the vote. Or sometimes a person is being honored on the House floor and we make sure to schedule that recognition, usually in the form of a House Joint Resolution, while they are present in the House.
The House Third Reading Calendar contains bills that have received a favorable recommendation from their Standing Committee. There are several reading calendars, but you’ll see Second and Third reading calendars in the Senate and a Third reading calendar in the House. The order on the Calendar mirrors the order in which they were passed out of Committee.
“Under suspension of the Rules” means that any legislator can make a motion to suspend any of the above calendar or committee rules. With a majority vote of their colleagues in the House or Senate their motion will be supported. This means that near the end of the session we may see bills that “under suspension of the rules” get voted on once in the Senate instead of twice as described above. We also see that as long as a bill has had one committee hearing, in either House or Senate, the other body may move the bill straight to a Reading Calendar without a committee hearing, “under suspension of the rules.”
Now let’s talk about how to read a bill. My former legislative colleague Holly Richardson, now a Salt Lake Tribune columnist, wrote an excellent article on how to read and understand bills and legislative calendars, “Utah Legislative Bill Reading 101.” For those wanting a little hands-on audio-visual guidance, Holly’s video below, includes a walk-through of a couple of bills, one old, one new, and a little tour around the legislative website. It is a great resource.
From Holly’s SLTrib article, “If you have an interest in following — and influencing — Utah’s legislative process, be sure to go to Utah’s legislative website, le.utah.gov. Utah’s website is top-notch for ease of use and ability to find information. If you want email notifications of bill changes, enter your email on the bill page, on the right-hand side under ‘Track this’.”
Hopefully that helps you understand a little more of the legislative process and how you can find out about specific bills or bills related to a certain issue. Now all that’s left is for you to get involved and make your voice heard. Thank you in advance!