The beginning of the new year often marks the beginning of several states’ legislative sessions. But what exactly happens during one? We’ve got the answers to this and more in today’s blog.
- What is a state legislative session?
Every single state (plus the District of Columbia and several U.S. territories) has a state legislature. They are different from Congress because they consist of elected officials at the state level, as opposed to federal officials.
During a state’s legislative session, state legislators determine any aspects of a state’s government, including passing a budget for the state. They may also consider writing laws on other issues, such as finance and taxation, as well as pension-related topics.
Every state except for Nebraska has a bicameral legislature, meaning that for bills to become law, it must pass the state’s House and Senate before it can be signed into law by the state’s chief executive (the governor).
- When do state legislators meet, and for how long?
Rules regarding when state legislatures meet and for how long vary from state to state. Some meet each year, while others, like Texas, meet every other year.
The length of each state’s session also depends on the respective state. For example, Michigan is in session year-round, while Utah’s legislators gather for two months of the year.
- How does the legislative process work?
Each body of a state legislature consists of legislative committees. At the beginning of each legislative session, state legislators are assigned to these committees, which is where they first consider a bill.
At this point in the legislative process, committees may invite witnesses and experts to provide testimony on the proposed impact of the bill. After hearing this testimony and studying the bill’s impact, the state legislators then vote on whether or not to pass the bill out of the committee. If they approve it, the bill moves to the overall state House or state Senate for consideration. If they don’t, the bill doesn’t make it to this next step.
Each state legislature has a committee in the state House, the state Senate, or in both chambers that meet to vote and consider pension-related pieces of legislation.
- What are some of the key dates to remember during a state’s legislative session?
Every state legislature has a date it begins (the convening date) and ends (the adjournment date, also known as sine die). The National Conference of State Legislatures has a list of each state’s convening and adjournment dates if you want to know when your state’s are.
Two key moments to track are the State of the State address and the introduction of a state’s budget. In a State of the State address, the governor of each state will appear before their respective state legislature and deliver an update on various conditions of the state (such as the economy) and outline their priorities for the year.
The second moment, the introduction of a budget, varies from state to state. In a few states, the governor alone is solely responsible for introducing a budget. In others, it’s the state legislature. In some, the governor and state legislature jointly introduce a budget. Regardless of how it is introduced, the budget still has to follow all of the steps outlined above in the legislative process for it to become law.
It’s also important to note that every state except Vermont is required to pass a balanced budget each fiscal year, which means that there must be enough revenue in the budget to offset the state’s expenses. If there isn’t enough revenue, state legislators have to decide whether or not to make budget cuts.
- How can I get involved and protect pensions during my state’s legislative session?
First, check to make sure you know who represents you in your state legislature. Be sure to call or write your elected officials if any pension-related bills are introduced, as constituent feedback makes a difference in whether a state legislator will vote for a bill.
Finally, last but not least, subscribe to our email list to make sure you receive the latest news in the fight for retirement security and how you can take action to protect pensions.