Know the Process

Become familiar with the legislative process and how a bill becomes law.

The most important thing you can do is build relationships with your elected officials so that when you contact them they recognize you as a constituent concerned about the children and schools in your community. Even so, there are “critical moments” in the legislative process when contacting your legislators matters most. It’s important that you become familiar with the process and the different ways your voice matters at different points in the process.

Basically, legislators follow the same process you do at the local level:  They identify the issues, discuss them and then decide what to do about them.  They just do it in a more formal way.

Where to Start

Step 1.  Identify the Issues
This can happen during the summer and fall when the legislature is out of session and your elected officials are at home in your community.  Meet with them.  Talk with them.  Let them know what’s happening in your schools.

Step 2.  Figure Out What To Do About Them
Legislators do something about issues by proposing or cosponsoring bills.  Once a bill is introduced it’s referred to committee for discussion and changes.

This is a time when you (or someone you trust) can review the proposals to see whether or not they meet your schools’ needs.  Once you’ve completed your review, contact your legislators to let them know what you think the impacts will be and contact the education committee members where the bill is being discussed.

Your elected officials may not be on any of the education committees and if you don’t share your concerns with them, they won’t know!

This is also a time when you can testify about the issues.  The House and Senate education committees need to know what’s happening in our schools! 

Step 3.  Floor Action, Debate and Voting
If a bill makes it through committee, it gets read and discussed by the “Committee of the Whole” (the full House or Senate).  This is a time when your elected officials can represent your local concerns.  Bills go forward only if they pass by a “floor vote.”

Step 4.  Conference Committees
Minnesota has a “bicameral” form of state government.  That means we have both a state House and Senate.  Bills can come through either, but in the end they have to pass exactly the same bill for it to move forward to the Governor.  They’re called companion bills and if they don’t match after passing by a floor vote, then the House and Senate have to convene what’s called a “Conference Committee” to hash out the differences.  Conference committees are usually composed of five members each of the House and Senate. Their job is to negotiate a compromise bill to bring to a vote by both houses. After a bill is “conferenced” it goes back to both bodies for final passage then proceeds to the Governor for signature or veto.

ALL committee meetings and floor sessions are OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, including conference committees.  For a schedule of education committee meetings during the session, click here.

Step 5.  The Governor
Once a bill passes both the House and the Senate, it is sent to the Governor who may sign it into law, veto it, or allow it to pass without his signature. Assuming this does not happen within the last few days of the session in an even-numbered year (the second year of the biennium), the Governor has three days to sign or veto a bill after it is presented. If he takes no action, the bill automatically becomes law.

A bill passed during the last three days of session during an odd-numbered year (the first year of the biennium) must be signed or vetoed by the governor within three days of presentment to the governor. If the governor fails to return the bill to the house of origin in an odd-numbered year within three days of presentment, the bill becomes law. (Note: The day of presentment does NOT count. So, if a bill is presented on Monday, he has until Thursday at midnight to sign or veto the bill. Sundays also do not count in the three-day rule.)

The Governor’s veto authority is different for policy and spending bills:

  • policy bills he must sign or veto the entire bill;
  • spending bills he can apply a line-item veto, red-lining individual appropriations within the bills.

A veto may be overridden if both the Senate and the House repass the bill with a two-thirds majority vote (90 votes in the House; 45 votes in the Senate). But because only the Governor can call a special session of the legislature, anything vetoed after the legislature adjourns is history—at least until next year.

For more information, see The Veto Process and Powers of the Governor, Minnesota Legislative Reference Library (Updated April 27, 2007).

Check the Governor’s Bill Log to see what bills have been presented to and acted upon by the Governor.

Additional Resources

Capitol Steps: A Young Person’s Guide to the Legislative Process – A 16-page booklet explaining in a simple, straightforward manner how a bill moves from an idea to law, Minnesota House of Representatives.

Guide to Citizen Action – Have you ever wondered ‘what good can one person possibly do?’ This online activist toolkit will show you how one person can work to reform government, Common Cause.

How a Constitutional Amendment Is Proposed and Ratified – Amendments must be approved by a majority voting in an election, not just a majority voting on the amendment, Minnesota House Research.

The Process for the K-12 Omnibus Bill is Different…  – Association of Metropolitan School Districts (scroll to page 6).

Making Laws – An overview of the lawmaking process, Minnesota House Research (2-page chart).

Minnesota Legislature 101 – The legislative branch is responsible for the enactment and revision of laws, University of Minnesota Legislative Network.