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How a Bill Becomes a Law in Massachusetts

Once you have some experience with it, the legislative process in MA is simple and easy to navigate. Before a bill becomes law, there are a number of steps it is important to know about when tracking legislation and lobbying for priorities. There are at least four times in the life of the bill where YOU can come in and make a difference.

Step 1

  • The first step is that a bill is filed with the House or Senate Clerk’s office by a legislator.

  • It is then assigned to a committee and given a bill number, which is how the bill can be tracked.

  • Every bill must then have a public hearing held by the committee to which it is assigned. (For example, a bill that would provide access to health care will have a hearing likely before the Health Care Financing Committee. All members of the public are invited to give testimony in favor of or against the bill.)

    This is the first place YOU come in! You can go to the hearing, prepare testimony and argue why the bill is important to social workers and society, or conversely, why the bill hurts the public or is detrimental to the profession. Testifying on bills is an important step to show legislators there is public support for or against the piece of legislation.

Step 2

  • After a bill is heard in committee the chairperson of the committee decides to report it out of committee favorably or unfavorably… or into a study order. (A study order means the committee would like to continue to review the legislation and does not plan on reporting it out favorably.)

    This is the second place YOU come in! You can lobby members of the committee and the chairperson to report the bill out favorably or unfavorably. Study orders are typically a bad sign – it usually means your bill is dead for the session.

  • If a bill gets reported out favorably it may go to another committee, especially if it has anything to do with money.

  • If a bill is reported out unfavorably it will go to the Floor of that branch for concurrence and if there is no objection it will die on the floor.

  • All bills relating to money originate in the House. Any bill having to do with money, therefore, goes to the House committee on Ways and Means either after its hearing in the original committee or straight from the clerk’s office. Other bills can go to the Ways and Means Committee as well, but that may not be a good sign for the bill as bills often never come out of that committee – another way in which they can die.

Step 3

  • If a bill makes it out of Ways and Means or another committee and then to the Committee on Steering Policy and Scheduling, it goes to the Committee on Third Reading and then if reported out of that committee, to the Floor of one branch and if passed favorably, to the floor of the other branch.

    This is the third place YOU come in! You can lobby committee members and your representative or senator to vote in favor of the legislation on the floor of the House or the Senate. Some bills will be passed in an informal session, which means it is a non- controversial bill and does not require a roll call vote. You won’t need to do much lobbying for these kinds of bills but you want to watch the bill closely to make sure it makes it through without problems. The controversial bills that are heard in formal session usually have larger coalitions behind them or against them and you can take an active role lobbying within those coalitions or individually.

Step 4

  • The final step for a bill is engrossment (engrossment means passage in that branch) in one branch and then engrossment in the other branch (followed by enactment in each branch). If there are differences in the bill from one branch to the other after engrossment, a conference committee is set up to iron out the differences. Then the bill goes back to its original branch for approval, then to the other branch and is then enacted in each branch and then finally to the Governor’s desk. Out of approximately 8000 bills filed each two- year legislative session, only a handful actually make it to the Governor’s desk.

    This is the fourth place YOU come in! If your bill makes it to the Governor’s desk, you really need to organize your friends and peers to come to the state house and lobby the governor’s staff to support it or oppose it. Once the governor makes a decision to sign it, the bill becomes law after 90 days. If the governor vetoes the bill, it goes back to the legislature, which can choose to override the veto with a 2/3 majority in each branch.

Lobbying is easy! The key is getting up the courage – or feeling the passion – to contact your legislator or a member of a committee to make your voice heard. With training and support from NASW-MA Chapter, you’ll be a pro in no time.

Remember, this is YOUR government so you do have a say and you can make a difference!

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