Take a closer look at how a bill becomes a law.

How a bill becomes a law

Many people would like a better understanding of what actually goes on day to day in the majestic domed building known as our Missouri State Capitol. Although a barrage of news stories present conflicting views, a general reminder of how the  structure works can ultimately make us better voters and citizens in general. To help with the process, here is a breakdown of what actually happens when a Missouri bill becomes law.

In its simplest form, for a bill to become law, both chambers of the Missouri Legislature, the House and Senate, must pass it. Once the bill is passed by the Legislature, it is sent to the governor to be signed or vetoed. If the governor signs the bill, it becomes law. On the other hand, if the governor vetoes the bill, the Legislature can override the veto with a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate.

Certain complications may arise within each chamber of the Legislature when a bill is presented. For a bill to be introduced in the House or Senate, it must be sponsored by a representative or senator. Once the bill is introduced and read to the full body, it must then go to a committee for a hearing on its merits. It is at this point that the proponents of the bill make their case for its passage. This is also the phase where many proposed bills die without ever getting to a full vote.

If the committee is in agreement, it can present the bill in several forms. For instance, the committee can recommend the bill, recommend the bill with amendments, recommend a substitute bill, table it for further consideration or not recommend it at all. If the bill makes it out of the committee, it is then sent for a full vote. It takes 18 votes in the Senate and 82 votes in the House for a bill to be passed.

Once the bill is passed by the House or Senate, it is sent to the other body for passage by the same committee process. If both bodies pass the bill without any amendments, it is sent to the governor for approval or veto. If, however, a different version is passed, it is sent back to the other body for a vote on the new version. If the new version is not agreeable, it will go to a conference committee made up of three senators and three representatives to compromise on a final bill.

Does it sound like a complicated process? It is. Two lobbyists, Kathi Harness and Mark Rhoads, offer their unique perspectives on working within the legislative system. Their job is to educate legislators on issues that involve their clientele.

Kathi Harness

BR_KathyHarness & Associates LLC

As a contract lobbyist, I represent multiple clients with varying interests. Those of us in the field do not usually have clients who are in the same business area. We must be careful not to encounter a conflict. For example, hospital systems agree on issues 90 percent of the time, but they may be in conflict on one particular issue. Therefore, it is advisable to represent one hospital. Also, it would be difficult to represent a hospital system and a health insurance company or a provider group (physicians, nurses). Too many times they do not agree on policy issues.

What people should know about the leg islative process: It is much easier to defeat a bill than to pass a bill. This is a good thing. What may seem like a good idea for one may not be such a good idea for another. The reason this is positive is because the process allows multiple aspects of a policy to be presented to make certain it is in the best interest of Missouri citizens. A final bill often requires compromise from all interested parties.

Challenges regarding terms: One of the biggest challenges legislators, lobbyists and interested parties face is legislators’ lack of historical knowledge due to short service time and term limits. Term limits are not necessarily a bad idea, but the terms need to be long enough for legislators to learn the process and become experienced as well as garner a historical perspective on why certain laws are in place or not. More experienced legislators usually perform better. Legislating is a complex activity, and it takes time to learn how to do it well. Longer terms also afford a better opportunity to work on long-term goals or changes.

Although the current Missouri legislative process is not perfect, it is a strong and able process. It is thoughtful and requires compromise. It results in the qualities of different ideas coming together for the good of all Missourians.

Mark Rhoads

BR_MarkRhoads Company LLC

Relationship building: Lobbying is about relationships and, more importantly, trusting relationships with the members of the Legislature. Your word is your bond, and my approach to all legislators, when advocating a position on a bill, is to explain my client’s interest and to explain both sides of the story. Identifying potential opponents so that a legislator can get information firsthand from those opponents is an important part of the trust that a lobbyist can build with legislators. There are times when I may not know the answer to a question as I’m testifying on a bill. My response is that I don’t know the answer but will endeavor to get the answer from my client.

A passion, a mission: I admire those who run for the Legislature. I’ve been in the lobbying business for 22 years and had previous experience as a state employee with the General Assembly for an additional 15 years. Yes, I’m considered an old-timer. Throughout those 37 years, I’ve seen individuals serve who, without a doubt, would have been better off economically and with their families to not serve. Public service is a calling and, in many cases, a sacrifice.