Years ago, we all learned how a bill becomes a law in just three minutes every Saturday morning. The cartoon starts as a view of a capitol building. The voice of a young boy starts talking about all the steps you have to climb to go inside.
He notices a paper on the steps and asks, “I wonder who that sad little scrap of paper is?” The paper answers in song, “I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill…But I know I’ll be a law someday….”
The song discusses how a bill starts as an idea, told to a Legislator, who writes it down and submits it to Congress. Then the bill is considered by a committee and, if approved, is voted on by one body of Congress. If approved by that body, it starts the process over in the other body. If it passes the legislature, it is sent to the President. If the President signs it and doesn’t veto it, the lowly bill becomes a law.
That’s where the Schoolhouse rock lesson ends. But that’s not always the whole story.
E2SHB 1099, adding a new goal to the GMA addressing climate change, took a far more complex route this week in its attempt to become a law. Along the way, it filled in many of the blanks Schoolhouse Rock left out of its Saturday morning civics lesson.
E2SHB 1099 began its journey this session, where it left off in 2021, starting smoothly. However, it was significantly amended in the Senate Ways & Means Committee and again on the Senate Floor. As approved by the Senate, it was very different from the House’s bill.
What happens when the House and Senate pass different versions of the same bill? The bill goes to concurrence.
Concurrence is a process where the other Chamber can consider each version of the bill. In this case, the Senate requested the House to concur, or agree, with their version of the bill. If the House chose to concur, the bill would be approved and go to the Governor for signature.
But the House did not concur. Instead, they requested a conference. The Senate granted the conference, even though they did not have to. If they had refused the conference and refused to agree with the House version, the bill would have died.
Conference is a process where conferees discuss both versions of the bill privately. The conferees are appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. They negotiate on their respective Chamber’s behalf. The conference committee can consider either version, both versions, and even add ideas never considered before. If the conferees cannot agree, the bill can die.
In this case, most of the conferees did agree. Upon agreement, a conference report was filed, including the new version of the bill. The conference report must be placed on the bar in each Chamber for 24 hours before acting upon it.
The new version of E2SHB 1099 included sections never included in the bill before, adding some new tax incentives for counties and cities that add zoning for middle housing. Even though the bill is significantly changed, each Chamber will only get the opportunity to vote yes or no with no chance for amendments.
But that’s not all. Due to the changes, the minority party in the Senate challenged the conference report that it was out of scope. The challenge was that certain parts of the new version bill in the report did not pertain to its content as outlined in its title.
In the House, the Speaker must rule on the challenge. The President of the Senate (Lieutenant Governor) must do the same in the Senate. The bill would likely die if the scoping challenge were upheld in either Chamber. In this case, the challenge was overruled. The Senate adopted the conference report and the new version of the bill.
The exact process is required in the House, and a challenge was likely to be presented there. However, the bill was never brought to the House floor for consideration. Therefore, the challenge was never raised, the conference report and the new version of the bill were never considered by the House, and E2SHB 1099 died.
E2SHB 1099 was passed through committees, approved by both chambers, made it through a conference, survived a scoping challenge on the Senate floor, was approved by the Senate again, and still failed.
One thing Schoolhouse Rock got absolutely right in just three minutes – “it’s not easy to become a law.”