It’s the legislative season in Wyoming and things are heating up. Let’s do a quick walk through of how state law is made. If you stand back from the politics of law making and focus on the process, it’s a brilliant transition from idea or need to statute.
An issue is identified by a citizen or legislator who then brings their concerns to a legislator or group of legislators.
Ideally, after a review of related issues, statutes, and state and federal constitutions, bills with statutory solutions to the identified problem are written to present before the legislature. A single legislator or group of legislators may sign on as sponsors of the bill.
The bill is introduced into one of the chambers of the legislature, House or Senate.
The bill is assigned to a committee for review and discussion. In committee, the bill may be amended, recommended on to a 1st reading in the committee of the whole, or die in committee.
If the bill passes through committee, then it is read before the Committee of the Whole, the full contingent of either the House or Senate, and the first vote is taken whether to consider further action on the bill. It may be amended at this stage, too.
Two more votes are taken in the originating chamber–the 2nd and 3rd Reading. Throughout this process, amendments may be offered.
If the bill passes through 3rd Reading, then it is sent to the second chamber of the Legislature.
The second chamber goes through the same process of review, amendment, and voting. If the bill is amended here, then it goes back to the originating chamber for a vote to concur which is simply a vote to agree with the added amendments. If amendments have passed in the second chamber, and there is not agreement between the chambers, then a conference committee with members from both chambers is assigned to work out differences between the versions. Both chambers must ultimately pass an identical version of the bill for it to continue to the next step.
A bill which has passed through both the House and Senate is then sent to the governor.
The governor may take one of three actions: sign the bill and it becomes law, allow the bill to become law without signing it, or veto the bill.
A vetoed bill can still become law IF both chambers pass it with at least a ⅔ vote. The bill is then enacted into law over the governor’s veto.
A new law is written into the Wyoming State Statutes.
Why is this process so important and brilliant? Because it takes the needs and concerns of citizens within a state through the process of representative review and into the statute books to solve a problem. Many persons with differing backgrounds, skills, and knowledge bases examine the problem and create a solution via the law.
Now, is this process working perfectly? Of course not, but considering alternative methods of solving citizen problems, looking out for the good of communities, and attempting to find the best interests of a state’s citizens, the process is elegant and functional. The key to it working well is the type of persons elected into the legislature. Are they people of integrity? Will they consider the interests of the people they represent and not get distracted by special interest group pressures or their own wishes? Will power corrupt their values? Will they remain true to the principles and platforms upon which they were elected so that they truly represent their constituents who voted them into office?
Representative government works well when both the citizens and the elected representatives understand the process, their respective roles, and the needs and interests of their communities and state. Failure at any step in the process of operating a representative Republic may create unhappy results and even lead to tyranny. Next week, we’ll talk about the differing theories of representation. I believe you’ll find within that discussion some of the sources of today’s political conflict and division.