Michigan Legislature 101: Bills, laws, and committees, oh my!
Every day, Michigan legislators in Lansing introduce, debate, and enact policies that impact Michiganders across the state. Issues from tax policy, to criminal justice, to education—and, yes, energy—are in their hands.
It might help to know that the policymaking process is complicated on purpose. It requires opposing points of view to work together to find common ground, and it establishes many hurdles a piece of legislation or new regulation must go through before it can become law. This complexity is meant to help ensure that only those pieces of legislation and regulation that will do the most good for the most people in our state are enacted.
It’s not a perfect process—and it doesn’t always guarantee perfect outcomes—but it serves us well by ensuring that no one set of ideas controls our future.
So how does the process work?
We all learned the basics on how a bill becomes a law in school, but odds are that it’s been a while since your last government or civics class! Don’t worry—we’ve broken down the necessary information below:
- A Bill is Introduced: The Michigan Constitution requires that a new bill be read three times to ensure a well-rounded understanding of the policy changes it would bring. Once the bill is read and printed, it is given to each chamber—the House and Senate—for five days for further consideration.
- First Stop: Committees: The Michigan legislature has 46 different committees (we’ll get into the ins and outs of these different committees in future blogs!). Each bill is referred to the appropriate committee depending on the issue. The committee can submit their thoughts on the bill in a number of ways. Do they recommend the bill or not? Is it favorable or unfavorable? Will there be amendments? All of these questions are addressed in the committee process, and from there, the committee will write its report on the bill.
- For example, an issue related to your electric utilities may be referred to the Energy Policy committee. The committee reviews the bill and debates the pros and cons, even holding public hearings. Ultimately, a committee decides if the bill moves up the ladder and reaches the floor for a vote.
- Floor Votes: After the committees submit their feedback and edits on a bill, floor votes are the next step in the legislative process. The bill must receive a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to move forward. If it does, it is sent to the governor’s desk for either an approval or veto. If it does not, the bill is back at the starting line and will undergo further revisions and amendments by legislators.
- The Governor’s Desk: Even after all of the lengthy debate and hard work, the governor still has final say as to whether to enact the bill. He or she has 14 days to make that decision. By the end of that two week period, the governor may:
- Sign the bill, and it will become law 90 days after the legislature adjourns
- Veto the bill, and send it back to the starting line with his or her objections
- Choose not to sign the bill. “If the bill is neither signed nor vetoed, the bill becomes law fourteen days after having reached the Governor’s desk if the Legislature is in session or in recess.”
This is just the tip of the legislative iceberg. A lot of work goes into turning advocacy into action, and turning a bill into a law. Throughout the entire process, there are rounds and rounds of debate and careful consideration, meaning there could be months—even years—before seeing change. It may seem daunting, but if the hard work pays off, the value is immeasurable.
Want to know more? Stay tuned for future blogs in the Michigan Legislature 101 series to stay informed on how our legislature impacts your community.