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Protecting the Bill of Rights in Utah since 1958

Understanding the Legislative Process

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The decisions made during the annual session of the Utah State Legislature have a lasting impact on our communities. As new laws are created and others repealed and rewritten, it is important to ensure that these changes strengthen rather than compromise our constitutional rights. During each session, and throughout the year, the ACLU of Utah addresses a wide range of issues, and our organizing and lobbying efforts are aimed at educating lawmakers and the public about the civil liberties implications of the proposed bills.

CITIZEN LOBBYISTS ARE THE KEY

The citizen lobbyist has existed nearly as long as democratic government itself. The term “lobbying” originates from the early practice of attempting to influence legislators in the lobby outside of the legislative chambers before a vote. The function of any lobbyist or lobbying campaign is basically the same: Advocate, Educate, and Participate. Contrary to popular perception, lobbying does not need to be complicated or expensive.

People are often hesitant to get involved in the political process for several reasons: they believe legislators only listen to high-powered lobbyists and big donors, they don’t think legislation will affect their lives directly, or they don’t understand how the process works. But the single most important factor in influencing how a legislator votes on a bill is constituent support. And since very few people take the time to contact their legislators, one visit, one phone call, or one letter from a constituent speaks volumes.

UNDERSTANDING THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS

Without a doubt, the most important tactic for monitoring the legislature is to understand how it works. In Utah, the House holds 75 members, and the Senate holds 29 members. The legislature meets for 45 day beginning on the fourth Monday in January. During this time the legislature operates what is called an open legislative process where all committee action on bills and amendments is conducted in open session. This gives citizens the opportunity to attend committee meetings and House and Senate floor sessions. The bills are read three times in both the House and Senate.

The introduction of a bill is its first reading. Once a bill has been introduced in the House or Senate, it is referred to a Rules Committee. There a recommendation is made for standing committee assignment, and the presiding officer - President in the Senate, Speaker in the House - assigns the bill to the appropriate standing committee. Standing committees offer citizens the opportunity to listen to and comment on legislative issues. If a citizen is interested in a particular bill, they may contact the chair of a specific standing committee to schedule their testimony. They can also attend committee meetings and testify when the chair asks for comments from the public.

The standing committee chairman determines when a bill is to be scheduled for a hearing. In the House, acceptance of the standing committee report - rather than debate and vote - is considered the second reading of the bill. In the Senate, bills are debated and a vote is taken on the second reading. When a bill passes the second reading in either House or Senate, it is placed at the bottom of the third reading calendar and cannot be considered until the following day except under suspension of rules. The bill is then read a third time and debated before passage by a constitutional majority - 38 votes in the House and 15 votes in the Senate.

The bills are then sent to the Governor for signing or veto.

The best way to develop relationships with your elected officials is to call, write and visit with them. To set up a meeting with your official, you should first call them, explain your issue in simple and real terms, and request an opportunity to meet with them.

Learn how to write a letter to your elected official >> 

Learn how to set up a meeting with your elected official >>Learn how to write effective Letters to the Editor >>

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At the Utah State Legislature web page you can find out how to contact your senator and representative, track current legislation, and find agendas for interim and session committee meetings. 

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