Monday, May 30, 2016

Advocacy Part II - What happens after a bill is passed?

Even after hardworking advocates are successful in getting a bill through the General Assembly, there is still another step or two in the process before the bill becomes law.

In Maryland, once the General Assembly acts to pass a piece of legislation, the governor has three options.
  • the governor can sign the bill into law
  • the governor can veto the bill (the General Assembly then has the option of attempting to override the veto - override requires a three-fifths vote of the elected membership of both the House and Senate) 
  • the governor can do nothing --- you may have heard a staffer, lobbyist or legislator say the governor 'put it in a drawer' - in which case the bill goes into effect the same as if it were signed, just without the governor's imprimatur.
The vast majority of bills passed in any General Assembly session are passed in the final weeks... the final days are a flurry of floor votes, conference committees, and concurrences. The governor is authorized to act on any piece of legislation as soon as the bill is passed - which means the governor can sign or veto a bill during session.  It is relatively rare for the governor to veto a bill during session, because as soon as the governor vetoes, the legislature can attempt an override.  In the 2016 General Assembly session there were several vetoes during session this year, immediately overridden.  Here's an article discussing some:

Because so much happens at the end of the legislative session, usually the governor's office is presented with a large volume of passed legislation in a short space of time. The governor and his staff then have a maximum of 50 days to determine what action to take on each bill. Things generally take a pretty well-known path.

Even before the end of the legislative session, the governor's office announces multiple official post-session bill signing ceremonies --- there are usually about five or six of them. Then, after the governor's office is presented with the list of passed bills, the staff go through the list to determine which bills the governor will sign, and then assign each of those bills to one of the pre-determined bill signing ceremonies.

The bill signing ceremonies provide an opportunity for hardworking legislators and advocates to be present, be recognized, have a nice official photo op. with the governor etc. -- I'm sure you've all seen some of those photos - the governor, the speaker, the Senate president at the dais with a line of legislators and advocates behind.

You'd think that would be a pretty straightforward, transparent process -- but really not so much.  Sometimes, the governor's office notifies primary bill sponsors of the date on which their bill will be signed well in advance, but often there is little notice.  Many times the governor's office will release a list of bills to be signed only a day or two before the relevant signing ceremony.

Practically speaking, the Speaker's office and Senate president's office maintain a list of bills passed during session, and monitor the bill signing announcements that come out of the governor's office -- -checking bills off as they go. After the last bill signing ceremony a list of unsigned bills remains. Usually - and this year is no exception - the last bill signing ceremony takes place about a week before the final deadline for gubernatorial action on session legislation.  So then, you literally just wait to see what will happen with the remaining bills. 

Bills vetoed after the end of the General Assembly session have to wait til the General Assembly convenes again to attempt veto overrides.... and that's more than seven months.  Effectively that means when the governor vetoes a bill passed by the General Assembly with a veto-proof majority, the veto isn't the death of the bill, just a delay.  Which begs the question.... if you know the bill will eventually be enacted, why thwart the work of the General Assembly?  But it happens.....

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