Many people will tell you that as difficult as it is to get a bill introduced, it is equally difficult to get a bill called on the floor in either chamber. The House and the Senate have separate calendars and different ways of developing their daily items that are eligible for floor action. Once a bill has made it out of committee with a favorable motion (a majority vote) it moves to its chamber of origin where the calendar process begins.
A bill must be read three times in the Senate or House before it can be called for action. You can identify how many times a bill has been read by looking for the star or the ‘X’. The first time, a bill is simply placed on the calendar and the second time a star is added. The second and final star is added upon the third reading. The Joint Session rules provide that a bill may only be read once a day, and clarifies that this rule applies to bills as well as resolutions.
Of course, for all rules there is always an exception. A motion can be made to suspend the rules and debate a bill that has not been double starred. When seeking to consider a bill out of order, a legislator may object and call a point of order. In order for the objection to be considered, the bill may not be placed on the roll board and read by the clerk (Rell, May 6, 1996). A legislator may make a motion to suspend the rules to consider a bill that has not been read three times but it would require a 2/3 vote in support of the motion. It is also important to note that the motion to suspend the rules can only be made once a day for a proposal.
Once a bill is voted on by a chamber, if the next chamber makes changes (an amendment) that require an additional vote in the originating chamber, it may be placed on that calendar immediately and does not need to be read. Also, during the last five days of session, bills are no longer required to be read three times. Once they are received by a Chamber they can be acted upon immediately. It is important to note that even if a bill has been read three times it is still required to be called for action on the bill. It is possible for a bill to be double starred and a chamber to take no action.
Often the most difficult part of passing a bill is having it called in a given chamber. Typically, a screening committee will meet to assess what should be included in the daily schedule. They will look to assess the length of debate that may arise from the proposal, the level of support, and the sponsors of the proposal.
Once a bill has made it onto a calendar it is important to start using that calendar number in conversations to help legislators identify the proposal. After the committee process has ended, most legislators use the calendar number as opposed to the bill number to refer to proposals. Toward the end of session, the House calendar becomes its “go list” (list of bills ready for action that day). The senate marks its calendar throughout session to indicate bills ready for action on given day.
Understanding the calendar process is essential for advocates. It helps you know when a bill might be called for action on the House or Senate floor, and also how to refer to a bill so that a legislator can identify it.