To say that the Georgia General Assembly is confusing is an understatement. Thankfully, I’ve spent the past few years covering Georgia beer laws, and I’m happy to share those learnings with honest God-fearing people like yourselves that just want to walk into a brewery and buy a beer like the rest of the country does.
That being said, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of how a bill becomes a law in the Georgia legislature.
A bill like SB 85 gets introduced in the Senate. Bills can be introduced in the House, too, but we’ll focus on the Senate for this example. The bill will be read twice on the floor by a guy who talks really, really fast.
The Senate President Pro Tem assigns the bill to a committee to study it further and make a recommendation on whether it should be voted on by the full Senate.
The bill gets assigned to the Regulated Industries Committee, which specializes in beer legislation.
It gets assigned to any other committee. The Senate President can assign bills to whatever committee he chooses, and sometimes he assigns them to the wrong committee so that they get forgotten about and die. This happened a couple of years ago, when a beer bill was sent to the Economic Development & Tourism Committee.
The Regulated Industries Committee holds hearings to discuss the bill. People will be brought in to testify for or against it. The committee then makes a recommendation on the bill.
They vote “do pass,” which recommends that the chamber vote to approve it.
Instead of voting on the bill, they table the vote for later. This is another way for a bill to get ignored until Crossover Day, which I’ll get to in a minute.
They change the bill. This is also known as a “committee substitute,” and substitutes aren’t always bad, especially when compromise is needed for a bill to pass. However, anyone who followed the Beer Jobs Bill saw what happens when a committee substitute is used to strong-arm the craft beer industry into accepting a bad deal. Anyway, once a bill is changed, the committee must vote on whether to approve the new version.
Once a bill leaves the Regulated Industries, it’s sent to the Rules Committee. The only job of the Rules Committee is to decide what bills get voted on each day. This means the Rules Committee is very, very powerful.
The Rules Committee puts it on the calendar promptly.
The Rules Committee ignores it until after Crossover Day. Again, we’ll get to that in a minute.
The bill is debated in the full Senate
The Senate votes to approve it.
The bad, option 1:
The Senate votes it down. It can still be voted on again, as long as the legislature is still in session, but this is obviously not good.
The bad, option 2:
The Senate votes to send it back to its original committee to “work on it a little more.” If a bill is recommitted, its chances of passage are very small, because this usually means it’s too controversial or just plain bad.
The Senate amends the bill on the floor and adds a bunch of crazy stuff to it that will most likely make it way worse. This is confusing to see in action, because each amendment to the bill must be voted on separately before the bill as a whole is voted on.
Now, let’s talk about Crossover Day. The Georgia legislature is in session for 40 days. Day
30 28 of the session, known as Crossover Day, is the day on which a bill must pass at least one chamber. Otherwise, it’s dead for that year.
The legislature operates in two-year sessions, so if a bill dies in Year 1 of the session, it always can be picked back up the next year. It usually takes a lot of public support, however, to make that happen.
Step 6-10, if the bill passes the Senate:
It moves over to the House and repeats each step all over again. The House also has Regulated Industries and Rules Committees, so the process is the exact same.
Now, if the bill does’t pass, a few things can happen:
The committee re-works the bill, passes it back up to the Senate for reconsideration, a fancy word for voting on it again.
The committee sits on the bill and let’s it die.
The bill is attached to another bill through a committee substitute. Confusing, right? Here’s the best explanation I can muster:
As long as the two bills relate to the same section of the Georgia Code, a bill can be attached to another bill. This is usually done when one bill is way too controversial to get passed on its own. It’s attached to a bill that’s guaranteed to pass as a way to back-door it into law.
Ideally, you don’t want this, because it’s a shady way to pass a bill and will royally piss off a lot of people. But it happens all the time.
The even uglier:
Remember how I said a bill can be amended on the floor of the Senate or House? Remember how I said if two bills are in the same code section they can be attached to one another? If the Rules Committee tries to stonewall a bill, a lawmaker can bypass them by trying to attach the bill to another bill on the floor and get it voted on right then and there.
An important note:
At the end of the day, the House and Senate must approve the exact same version of a bill before it’s sent to the governor to sign into law.
This means that if the Senate passes SB 85, and then the House makes a bunch of changes, then the new version of the bill has to be sent back to the Senate for another vote.
If an identical version of the bill can’t be passed by both chambers, a conference committee will be called. This committee contains three Senate members and three House members, and its job is to reconcile a single version of the bill to be voted on.
This post could be a whole lot longer, as the legislature has a lot of byzantine procedures and traditions, but hopefully that answers most of your questions on how the sausage is made.