The Life of a Law: Committees
This is the third installment in a series explaining the process of how a bill becomes a law. For quick reference, see our infographic of the law-making process.
In our past 2 posts, we saw how an idea makes its way to the Georgia General Assembly and what happens during the First and Second Readings. We alluded to the importance of committees in our last post, but now we’re going to delve in a bit farther.
The majority of our legislators’ work happens in committee. This is where a bill is discussed and reviewed, dissected and debated. Much of the fact-finding groundwork happens here.
After the First Readings, each bill is assigned to a specific committee. These committees then get to work. They can invite people to testify on behalf of the bill, such as the bill's author, other legislators, lobbyists, state officials or even you! Committee members can make changes to bills, adding amendments or making deletions where they feel it is appropriate. Once they’re ready, the committee will vote on the bill saying either yea or nay.
If a bill is good to go, the committee will send it back to their respective houses with a favorable report. It has 3 options in doing this. It can either mark the bill as:
- Do Pass
- Do Pass with Amendments
- Do Pass by Substitute
Options 1 and 2 mean what they say. Option 3 means it can pass by forwarding an alternate bill.
Once a bill passes committee, it is then sent to the floor of the house where it originated for floor consideration.
If a committee does NOT want to pass a bill, they give it an unfavorable report. The majority of bills actually die in committee. There are 2 options in this case.
- It can mark a bill as “Do Not Pass.”
- It can hold the bill and issue no report.
Option 2 is the most common case. However, there ARE ways to force a bill out of committee or to move it to another committee, but only on rare occasions.
Types of Committees
There are a variety of committees in the Georgia General Assembly, each with their own purpose and set of rules. Here are a few examples:
- Standing committees are the most common type of committee. They are more permanent and are always formed each session. All bills introduced during session are assigned to a standing committee, and then all bills must pass here before being considered on the floor. A lot of activity (such as the hearings) happens in standing committees. Some of it can even happen in the interim between sessions.
- Study committees are assigned and authorized by one or both houses (typically with a specific issue in mind). They are most active in the interim between sessions in order to do research and learn more about a particular subject.
- When the 2 houses can’t agree on a bill, a Conference Committee is created. This process dates all the way back to the beginnings of British Parliament. It’s filled with 3 members of each house tasked with finding a compromise. Once they reach a compromise, the legislators present their reports to their respective houses for approval.
Last updated April 27, 2017.
About the Author
Bethany McDaniel is the Interactive Web Content Manager for GeorgiaGov. She graduated from Berry College in Rome, Ga., with degrees in Visual Communication and History.