Every piece of legislation (bill) begins with the sponsorship by a legislator of an idea. Those ideas come from a multitude of sources. It could be an issue of personal interest for the legislator, or it could come from a constituent or from an interest group such as doctors, non-profit agencies, or in our case, a college. Anyone can approach their legislator with something they think should either become law or be removed from the laws of Florida. Each house member is limited to six bills, while senators can file unlimited numbers of bills (many file more than twenty and in 2011, one filed fifty-three!).
Once a legislator has decided to sponsor a bill, they must also ensure there is a companion bill in the other chamber. All bills must be heard in both chambers of the Florida legislature and pass as identical items from both chambers prior to becoming law. Each bill must also be “read” three times in order to pass and go on to the governor. First reading is by printing the bill by title in the House and Senate Journal on opening day of the annual legislative session. Second and Third reading will be discussed later.
Upon filing of the bill by the legislator, the presiding officer of that chamber (Speaker of the House or President of the Senate) refer the bill to committees for review and consideration. Depending on the subject of the bill, it could be assigned to several committees in diverse policy areas, including appropriations if the bill will have a financial impact on the state budget. Generally, each bill gets three to five references, though some receive fewer.
Each committee of reference will hear the bill, consider any amendments that may be filed, take public testimony from anyone who wishes to speak for or against the bill, ask questions of the sponsor (or the witnesses who testify), debate the bill and then take a vote on the bill. Majority rules and if the bill is voted down, it is considered dead and moves no further. If it is approved by the committee, it then moves on to its next committee of reference where the hearing process repeats until it has cleared each committee of reference.
For those bills that make it all the way through the committee process, they are then available for consideration by the whole body. Second and third readings happen on the floor of the legislative chamber, if the bill successfully makes it through the committee process. On second reading, the bill is read by title, the sponsor explains the bill, the other members can ask questions of the sponsor about the bill, amendments are considered, and the bill “rolls over to third reading, which usually occurs the next day the legislators meet in the chamber.
Third reading proceeds much the same way as second reading, except that amendments on third reading require a two-thirds vote to pass. Third reading is also when the bill is considered for final passage in that chamber. After all questions and debate have been concluded and the sponsor closes on their bill (final summary), the full body of that chamber votes on the bill.
***This is a very condensed version of the typical process each bill must follow. There are, however, many variations on how an issue can be moved through the process.
The Governor’s Role
As the chief executive of the state, the governor’s role in the legislative process is to perform one last review of a bill that reaches their desk and decide to sign the bill into law, allow it to become law without their signature or to veto the bill. If a bill is signed into law, it is also the governor’s responsibility to see that the law is executed in the manner the legislature intended, through the various state agencies.
The governor is required each year to propose a budget to the legislature. The governor also offers suggestions for legislation for the legislature to consider at the annual “State of the state” address. The governor’s proposed budget and the final product which reaches their desk after passage by the legislature often look quite different. On the General Appropriations Act (state budget), the governor has the power of “line item veto”, meaning they can single out individual spending items for elimination from the state budget. The governor cannot change any items or re-appropriate funds to other areas, only eliminate the spending item. Governor Rick Scott vetoed over $615 million dollars in spending out of the $69 billion dollar budget passed by the 2011 legislature.