Here is some background information you may find helpful if you have an idea for a law. First, your idea needs to be translated into a bill, and then introduced in the legislature.
Bills are introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate by legislators (Representatives or Senators). The bills that survive the legislative process and are not vetoed by the governor become law. [A bill that has been vetoed by the governor can still become law if the legislature overrides the governor’s veto by a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber (House and Senate).]
PAR is available to help you as you navigate this process.
Developing Your Idea
Every bill starts off as an idea. If you have an idea for a bill, the first thing to do is to give some thought to the following questions:
- What result(s) do you want to achieve with your bill?
- Is a bill necessary or can results by achieved another way?
- Is there a model that could serve as an example or provide guidance for your idea?
- Is there a law or pending legislation from another state that could serve as an example?
- Will it cost money to implement your proposal? If so, approximately how much will it cost and where should the money come from?
- Who will be affected by your bill?
Draft an outline based on your answers to help develop your idea.
Who to Approach
Once your idea has been developed, the next step is to take it to a legislator, since only legislators can introduce bills in the State of Hawaii. If you’ve done your research as to why your proposal is a good idea, you’ll be much more likely to get a legislator’s agreement to introduce your bill. So, who should you approach?
- It’s often best to start with the Senator and/or Representative serving your district. If you don’t already know who your legislators are, the Legislature’s website, has a search tool in the upper right corner of the home page that can help you find them.
- While it’s good protocol to approach your legislators first, it isn’t an absolute rule. You may also go to the chair or members of the subject matter committee(s) to which your potential bill would probably first be referred. To view all the committees in the legislature, go to the Legislature’s website and click on “Committees.” You should be able to view the scope of each committee by clicking on the committee’s hyperlink. If you are unsure about which committee your bill may be referred to first, PAR can help you figure that out.
- It may be beneficial to approach legislators that have supported similar ideas in the past. If they are sympathetic to your cause, they can be good allies.
- You can also approach House and/or Senate leadership. Leadership drives the legislative policy at the Capitol so getting a member of leadership to support your proposal could be a good way to start it on its journey.
When to Approach a Legislator
The best time to approach legislators with your idea is in the summer and fall months of interim (when the legislature is not in session) as things tend to be a bit slower at the Capitol during this time. Getting in early allows adequate time for a legislator to meet with you to discuss your idea(s) and send your proposal off for drafting. The drafting agencies are very busy fulfilling drafting requests in December and early January, so you’ll want to stay ahead of the rush. The deadline to introduce bills is typically one week after the start of session (the third Wednesday in January).
How to Approach a Legislator
Taking your idea for a bill to a legislator is democracy in action. In-person meetings are best because it provides an opportunity for you to make your case and answer any questions the legislator may have for you. It may take some work to get a meeting with a legislator, but you are more likely to be successful by communicating with the legislator’s office early with a well thought out proposal. You can also email your proposal to a legislative office if you choose to take that route. Keep in mind that even if you secure a meeting with a legislator, they may not be supportive of your idea. If they are not onboard, ask their advice on how you can best accomplish your vision. If the legislator likes your idea and is willing to send your proposal to a drafting agency, give them as much information as you can, including your outline, supplemental information and your contact information. Once your idea is put into draft form, and you get it back from the legislator, review it to make sure the bill reflects your proposal. Ask for the legislator’s commitment to sponsor the bill for you and follow up with the legislator’s office prior to the opening day of session.
Drafting requests are made by legislators to one of the five drafting agencies at the Capitol. Each bill draft request is assigned to a staff attorney or research analyst based on experience and workload. The drafter is an impartial technician whose function is to translate the objectives and ideas into clear, concise, and unambiguous language. Bills are given a title to reflect the subject matter of the idea (RELATING TO EDUCATION, etc.) The substance of the bill must always fall under the umbrella of the bill’s title, and the bill’s title will remain unchanged throughout the bill’s path through the legislature. So, the choice of a bill’s title may be strategic, since it establishes the possible scope of the bill. In incorporating the idea into bill form, drafting agencies ensure that bill drafts are in the proper format, style, and legal form. Please note that the drafters communicate with the legislators directly. Talk to the legislator about any concerns.
Types of Bills
The following is a list of some of the different types of bills that are introduced each legislative session:
- General bills amend, repeal, or establish new statutes that govern the state.
- Appropriation bills give the state authority to spend money for a specific purpose.
- Revenue bills increase or decrease the amount of taxes or fees received by the state.
- Constitutional amendments are proposed by the legislature and must be passed by 2/3 majority vote in each chamber. They are referred to voters for final action.
Bills can only be introduced when the legislature is in session. Per the Constitution of the State of Hawaii, each new regular legislative session convenes on the third Wednesday in January. The bill introduction deadline, which is set by Senate and House leadership prior to session, usually comes about a week after opening day. Once your draft bill has been submitted by a legislator to either the Chief Clerk of the House or Senate, it is on its way. It will be given a bill number (HB or SB), be scheduled for its first reading, and be assigned to a subject matter committee. The fate of your bill is determined by the legislature but it’s important to keep track of it and support it through the process. And be sure to ask for a hearing from that first committee chair.