Overview of State Legislative Process

Advocate group or individual drafts its bill
A bill is drafted, often by an advocate group. The advocate group then makes a decision into which chamber of the General Assembly a bill should be introduced. Advocate group lobbyists contact a legislator whom they believe might be receptive to an issue and ask the legislator to review the bill.

Bill sponsors sought
After such review, the legislator is asked to be the prime sponsor of the bill. As a general rule, attempt to find sponsors from the members of the committee that will consider your bill. For instance, have education bills sponsored by the House and/or Senate Education Committee Chairpersons; labor-oriented bills sponsored by the House and/or Senate Labor Committee Chairpersons; and pension issues sponsored by the House and/or Senate Pension Committee Chairpersons. Once a prime sponsor is secured, request other legislators to co-sponsors the bill. Many advocate groups are careful that all of their bills are sponsored by members of all four caucuses so that the bill has strong bi-partisan support.

Bill is introduced and assigned to a committee
After a review by the House or Senate attorney, the bill is introduced into the House or Senate where it is read in for the first time, receives a number and is assigned by the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate (the Lieutenant Governor or the Senate Pro-Tempore) to a committee. House bills are designated as HB; Senate bills as SB. Committee assignments are generally made based on the nature of the bill, such as an education bill is usually assigned to the Education Committee. However, politics can enter into the committee assignments and it could be placed into any committee, including the friendly placement of a bill into a committee chaired by the sponsor of the bill or the unfriendly placement of a bill into a committee chaired by an opponent of the bill. If the advocate group anticipates a problem with committee assignment prior to introduction of a bill, the advocate group should contact House or Senate leadership to discuss its possible committee assignment.

Committee considers bill at a hearing
If the bill is a House bill, the House rules require that a hearing on the bill be conducted within two weeks of its introduction by its assigned committee at the request of the sponsor. In some cases it is strategically desirable to have the bill heard by the committee quickly and in some cases it is desirable to build more support for a bill before it is heard. Advocate group lobbyists should work with the sponsor to determine the proper timing of the committee hearing.

If the bill is a Senate bill, the process is similar, but no rule exists for the amount of time that a committee must conduct a hearing on the bill at the request of the sponsor. Frequently, the chairperson of a Senate committee will walk a bill from committee without conducting a hearing. Walking means that the chairperson gets committee members to sign the bill out of committee without the benefit of a hearing.

The committee chairperson has considerable power in determining if a bill is released from committee, particularly in the Senate. In some cases, the committee chairperson will refuse to sign a bill out of committee. If a committee chairperson decides to hold a bill in committee, the chamber may vote to release a bill from committee, but this action, however, is unlikely to occur.

At the committee hearing, the advocate group should testify to the merits of its bill. The committee will then decide what action to take. The committee can table a bill for further discussion, act to release the bill to the entire chamber, or to kill the bill by holding it in committee. If a bill is released, each member of the committee has an opportunity to rate the bill by signing out the bill as favorable, unfavorable or on its merits. The more favorables, the better chance the bill has of passage when it reaches the entire chamber.

Once a bill is released from committee, it can travel one of two different paths.

Bills costing money go to the House Appropriations or Senate Finance Committee (See Budget Process)
If the bill costs more than $50,000 to implement, the bill is assigned to the Appropriations Committee in the House or the Finance Committee in the Senate. The committee process outlined above is again repeated, but not until the bill has been funded in the state budget, which is not usually adopted until the end of June. Advocate group lobbyists must work with the Joint Finance Committee (comprised of both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee) to secure funding. (In some rare cases, the Joint Finance Committee may include the bill draft in the epilogue of the budget, making passage of the bill unnecessary). Once a bill is funded and released by either the House Appropriations Committee or Senate Finance Committee, it follows the path outlined below.

A less costly bill is placed on the "Ready List"
If a bill, which does not have a fiscal note in excess of $50,000, is released from committee, it is given its second reading before the chamber and is placed on the ready list to await placement on the agenda by the chamber's majority leadership. The advocate group and the bill's prime sponsor will work with the majority leadership to have the bill placed on the agenda.

Bill is placed on agenda and considered
Once on the agenda, the bill is read in for the third time and placed before the entire chamber where is debated. The bill could be passed, defeated, laid on the table or remitted back to committee by action of the chamber. If a bill is defeated, the bill is lost unless a majority of the members of a chamber vote to restore the bill to the calendar. If restoration occurs, the bill could then be tabled or reassigned back to committee. In the Senate, the roll call of a defeated bill can be tabled by the sponsor until such time that he or she can secure the requisite votes necessary for passage.

A bill passed by one chamber goes to the other chamber and the process is repeated
If a bill is passed by one chamber, the bill is then sent to the other chamber where the entire process begins again. If the bill passes the second chamber in the exact form as it passed the first chamber, then it is sent to the Governor. If a bill is amended by the second chamber, it is sent back to the first chamber and the entire process begins again. If it passes the first chamber in the same form it passed the second chamber, then it is sent to the Governor.

Governor receives the bill
When the Governor receives the bill, he or she can either sign it, allow it to become law without his or her signature, or veto the bill. If the bill is vetoed, the bill is returned to the chamber of origin. A veto can be overridden by a 3/5 vote of both chambers. Only one veto has been overridden in the last ten years.

The Budget Process

Budget Office prepares Governor's Budget
The state budget process begins in September when the Budget Office requests that each department in state government submit budget requests for the next year's budget. These requests are generally presented to the State Budget Office at public hearings held in October and November.

Between November and January, the State Budget Office develops the Governor's budget bill. According to the State Constitution, the Governor must present a budget which is balanced at 98% of the state's projected revenues. The Delaware Financial and Economic Advisory Council (DEFAC) is charged with making such projections, which are made in September, December, March, April, May and June.

Governor presents his/her budget
The Governor presents his or her budget to the General Assembly in an address usually delivered on the last legislative day in January. The leadership of his or her party's caucuses usually introduces the formal bill that same day.

Joint Finance Committee considers Governor's Budget
The Governor's budget is assigned to the Joint Finance Committee. The General Assembly adjourns for six weeks during February and March during which time the Joint Finance Committee conducts its own budget hearings for all departments. Following these hearings, the Joint Finance Committee requests its staff, the Controller General's Office, to analyze the budget requests prior to budget mark-up. These hearings are open to the public and the JFC will accept public testimony after the department presents its budget requests.

The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) usually meets toward the end of May to begin marking-up the budget. Again, the JFC must develop a budget which is balanced at 98% of the revenues projected by DEFAC. The JFC usually uses the May DEFAC projections to begin marking up the budget, but waits for the June projections until the budget is finalized.

The JFC typically meets behind closed doors in "orientation" and makes its major decisions. When they open to the public, they begin voting on the budget line by line, item by item. Usually salary is the first item considered, and the education budget the last. The JFC takes no public testimony during mark-up.

After the budget is marked-up, the JFC drafts the epilogue to the budget. The epilogue contains an written explanation of how individual lines in the budget are to be spent. The epilogue, for instance, contains the school employee salary schedules. The epilogue is frequently used to detail education programs which have not been adopted as a law through a bill. The epilogue is also used with some frequency to alter the Delaware Code. Unfortunately, the JFC does not provide the public with copies of epilogue drafts prior to adoption, so no one knows what may be contained in the epilogue until the budget bill is introduced. The budget bill is typically introduced and voted on during the last week in June, just before the General Assembly adjourns.