How a Bill Becomes Law in Minnesota
The various offices of the Minnesota Legislature provide a variety of documents explaining how a bill becomes law in Minnesota. Several of the items on this page are in portable document format (.pdf). You will need the Adobe ® Acrobat ® reader to view them. If you do not have it installed on your system, you may download it for free from the Adobe website.
State Law Process - This publication from House Public Information Services gives examples of the need for new laws, a numbered list of steps a bill must go through, and a question and answer section.
Capitol Steps: From Idea to Law - A publication produced by the House of Representatives Public Information Office that explains how bills become laws.
Making Laws - A detailed publication from the Minnesota House Research Department.
How a Bill Becomes Law - The Senate Publications office publishes this flow chart showing the steps a bill must go through to become law.
Steps a Bill Goes Through to Become Law
Idea → Legal form → Authors → Introduction →
Committee → Floor → General Register → Calendar for the Day →
Special Orders → Conference → Floor → Governor
Questions and Answers
A bill is an idea for a new law or an idea to change an old law. Anyone can suggest an idea for a bill—an individual, consumer group, professional association, government agency, or the governor. Most often, however, ideas come from legislators, the only ones who can begin to move an idea through the process. There are 134 House members and 67 senators.
The Office of the Revisor of Statutes and staff from other legislative offices work with legislators in putting the idea for a new law into proper legal form. The revisor's office is responsible for assuring that the proposal's form complies with the rules of both bodies before the bill can be introduced into the Minnesota House of Representatives and the Minnesota Senate.
Each bill must have a legislator to sponsor and introduce it in the Legislature. That legislator is the chief author whose name appears on the bill along with the bill's file number to identify it as it moves through the legislative process. There may be up to 34 coauthors from the House and four from the Senate. Their names also appear on the bill.
The chief House author of the bill introduces it in the House; the chief Senate author introduces it in the Senate. Identical bills introduced in each body are called companion bills. The bill introduction is called the first reading. The presiding officer of the House then refers it to an appropriate House committee for discussion; the same thing happens in the Senate.
The bill is discussed in one or more committees depending upon the subject matter. After discussion, committee members recommend action—approval or disapproval—to the full House and full Senate. The House committee then sends a report to the House about its action on the bill; the Senate committee does likewise in the Senate.
After the full House or Senate accepts the committee report, the bill has its second reading and is placed on the House agenda called the General Register or the Senate agenda called General Orders. (A committee can recommend that non-controversial bills bypass the General Register or General Orders and go onto the Consent Calendar, where bills usually pass without debate.) After this point, House and Senate procedures differ slightly.
In the House, the General Register serves as a parking lot where bills await action by the full body. Bills chosen to appear on the Calendar for the Day or the Fiscal Calendar are drawn from the General Register.
In the Senate, a different procedure is used. Bills are listed on the General Orders agenda. Senate members, acting as the "committee of the whole," have a chance to debate the issue and offer amendments on the bill. Afterwards, they vote to recommend: passage of the bill, progress (delay action), or further committee action. And sometimes they recommend that a bill not pass. From here, the bill is placed on the Calendar.
Calendar for the Day
In the House, the Calendar for the Day is a list of bills the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee has designated for the full House to vote on. Members can vote to amend the bill, and after amendments are dispensed with, the bill is given its third reading before the vote of the full body is taken. The House also has a Fiscal Calendar, on which the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee or House Taxes Committee can call up for consideration any tax or finance bill that has had a second reading. The bills are debated, amended, and passed in one day.
In the Senate, bills approved by the "committee of the whole" are placed on the Calendar. At this point, the bill has its third reading, after which time the bill cannot be amended unless the entire body agrees to it. Toward the end of the session, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration designates bills from the General Orders calendar to receive priority consideration. These Special Orders bills are debated, amended, and passed in one day. A bill needs 68 votes to pass the House and 34 votes to pass the Senate. If the House and Senate each pass the same version of the bill, it goes to the governor for a signature.
Toward the end of the session, the rules committee of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate may designate bills from the General Orders to receive priority consideration in their respective bodies. These Special Orders bills are debated, amended, and passed in one day. The House also has a Rule 1.10 calendar which allows the chairs of the Taxes and Appropriations committees to call up for consideration any tax or appropriations bill that has had a second reading. These Rule 1.10 bills are debated, amended, and passed in one day.
If the House and Senate versions of the bill are different, they go to a conference committee. In the House, the speaker appoints three or five representatives, and in the Senate, the Subcommittee on Committees of the Committee on Rules and Administration selects the same number of senators to form the committee. The committee meets to work out differences in the two bills and to reach a compromise.
The conference committee's compromise bill then goes back to the House and the Senate for another vote. If both bodies pass the bill in this form, it is sent to the governor for his or her approval or disapproval. (If one or both bodies reject the report, it goes back to the conference committee for further consideration.)
Once the governor has the bill, he or she may: sign it, and the bill becomes law; veto it within three days; or allow it to become law by not signing it. During session, the House and Senate can override a governor's veto. This requires a two-thirds vote in the House (90 votes) and Senate (45 votes). The governor also may "line-item veto" parts of a money bill, or "pocket veto" a bill passed during the last three days of the session by not signing it within 14 days after final adjournment.
Questions and Answers
How are bills amended?
Bills going through the Legislature are often amended, which can greatly change the thrust of a bill.
Most often legislators make amendments to bills when they are being considered in committee. Committee members are usually well-versed in the subjects of the bills, and they have the time at this point to consider making changes. Legislators can also amend bills when they reach the House or Senate floor. In both cases, amendments are adopted by a majority vote.
Generally, the legislator offering the amendment will have the proposal drafted by legislative staff before offering it for discussion.
What are first, second, and third readings?
A "reading" is the presentation of a bill before either body when the bill title is read. Bills must have three readings, one on each of three separate days, before they can receive final approval. Each of these readings is a stage in the enactment of a measure. Exceptions can occur, however, if the rules are suspended.
The Minnesota Constitution outlines this procedure to ensure that legislators know exactly what bills are before them, and to allow time for legislators to study the proposals.
The first reading occurs when a bill author introduces a bill on the House or Senate floor, after which it is sent to a committee for consideration.
The second reading occurs when either body finishes committee action on a bill and it is sent to the floor. This happens in advance of the floor debate on the bill.
The third reading occurs immediately preceding the final vote on the bill.
Even though the Minnesota Constitution requires this process, it permits legislators to dispense with the rule when necessary.
What happens to bills remaining on calendars at the end of the first session of a biennium?
Bills of this nature are returned to the last committee from which they were reported to the floor. But before they can be reported to the floor in the succeeding year, the committee must again recommend action.
Are there any legislative deadlines?
Bills can be introduced at any time during a session, but there are committee deadlines after which a bill will no longer be considered that session.
Committee deadlines are announced during the first half of a session in order to winnow the list of topics to be dealt with that year. The first deadline requires bills to have been approved by all policy committees in either the House or Senate in order to be considered further that session.
The second deadline sets a date after which bills will not be considered unless they have passed through all policy committees of both bodies.
The third deadline is the date by which the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee must have approved their omnibus appropriation bills.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule; these deadlines generally do not apply to tax and appropriations bills.
How do legislators vote on various issues?
Although people frequently call and ask for a legislator's "voting record," no such complete document exists. In reality, each legislator casts hundreds of votes on assorted bills that are subsequently recorded in the Journal of the House. The Senate has a comparable journal.
If you want to know how a legislator voted on a specific bill, the House Index Office (651-296-6646) and the Senate Information Office (651-296-0504 or 1-888-234-1112) can help you.
Probably the best way to get a feel for a legislator's voting record is to contact any number of special interest groups that rate legislators based on issues that are important to them. Several business associations and environmental groups, for example, issue regular ratings.
When do new laws go into effect?
Most new laws go into effect on Aug. 1 following a legislative session unless a bill specifies another date. Exceptions are bills that contain an appropriation, which become effective July 1, the same date the fiscal year begins.
What is an omnibus bill?
An omnibus bill is a large bill that includes several different issues under one general topic such as education. It's usually an appropriations bill, contains many pages, and is often comprised of several individual bills. Legislators often say the smaller bills are "rolled into" the larger one.
Text by the Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services Office. 03/29/2000 (PB)