Senator Chuck Wiger: A bright idea can make big changes: how a bill becomes a law

Many important laws started as bright ideas brought to me by constituents.

A law to make workplaces safer at hospitals was brought to me by concerned nurses. Local school leaders have met with me to talk about fair funding for schools, smarter testing, early childhood education and academic achievement.

From parks and trails to consumer protection and public safety issues like body cameras – all have been brought to me by people living in our communities.

A bill that becomes law starts with a bright idea. A person then brings the idea to a member of the Legislature. The ideas are discussed in committees of the Senate and House. This year I am serving on the E-12 Education Finance Committee and the Local Government Committee.

A good example of how a bill becomes law is the Race2Reduce water conservation program that was suggested by advocates who wanted to address the sinking water levels of White Bear Lake. They came to me with an idea that would help kids become aware of water-related issues while still in elementary and middle school.

The advocates were trying to expand the Race 2 Reduce programming in several schools in my district. The programming partners local kids with schools in other countries to help Minnesotans learn how other cultures view water. The lessons were all part of a plan to raise awareness about water usage, and to engage participating communities in water conservation efforts. Knowing how incredibly important water conservation practices are, I agreed to author a bill to get $150,000 for the program that would allow it to expand across our area.

This process perfectly illustrates how an idea or problem in a community can turn into an idea for a bill which is exactly what happened with the Race 2 Reduce legislation. A group of concerned educators took a very real problem in their community, created a program to teach kids about it – and then wanted to expand their program in the White Bear Lake and Mahtomedi school districts. In order to expand, they needed money – and that’s when they came to me with a bill suggestion.

Before a bill can be processed through either the House of Representatives or the Senate, it must first be given its first formal reading. The first reading occurs when the bill is introduced, given a file number and assigned to a committee for study. The first stop for the Race 2 Reduce appropriations bill was the Senate Education Committee. We invited teachers and students familiar with the program to the Capitol to testify in front of Senate Education Committee members.

This testimony is all part of the process of how a bill becomes a law. Committee members will discuss the pros and cons and then take one of several courses of action. The committee can recommend the bill to pass, move it to another committee or send it directly to the Senate floor for a vote. The committee could also simply defeat the bill.

After a bill is reported out of its final committee, it is given a second reading and placed before the entire Senate or House body for discussion and consideration. Once a bill is placed on ‘General Orders’ senators will get a copy of the bill and are given at least 24 hours to learn more about the bill before they are asked to vote. After senators are given time to consider the bill, it is read and a roll-call vote is taken. Thirty-four votes are needed to pass most bills in the Senate.

If a bill passes in the Senate, it’s sent over to the House of Representatives where it goes through a very similar process. If the House passes an identical bill to the Senate it’s then sent on to the Governor. If the House passes an altered version of the bill, a conference committee is assembled which is composed of half senators and half representatives to work out a compromise that both sides can agree on. Once the Governor sees a bill that has passed both bodies, the whole bill can be signed, a portion of the bill be signed line-item vetoes or simply veto the bill altogether.

If the Governor signs the bill, the bill becomes law. The Race 2 Reduce bill was rolled into a larger Education Finance Bill. This bill was eventually signed by Governor Dayton. The Race 2 Reduce program received its money and the program is expanding its message to more school kids in the east metro. This year, I will be authoring another bill to keep the program going.

Lawmaking is a complicated process – but it’s worth the effort. Ideas should be fully scrutinized before they become law – and that’s exactly the purpose of the Minnesota Legislature.

The bills that I am authoring this session cover the topics of

  • Increasing school formula funding
  • Increasing state support for special education
  • Reducing education funding disparities (SF 12)
  • Expanding full-service community schools (SF 7)
  • Increasing teacher training and development
  • Improving student digital information systems (SF 11)
  • Supporting programs to increase third-grade reading proficiency (SF 13)
  • Providing capital bonding for Century College remodeling projects
  • Supporting the National Popular Vote to eliminate the Electoral College (SF 10)
  • Supporting safe trapping (SF 9)
  • Increasing White Bear Lake water sustainability

If you’re interested in looking up a specific bill you can find that here: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/status_search.php?body=Senate

If you are interested in looking up my bills specifically, visit: https://www.senate.mn/members/member_bio.php?mem_id=1067

If you’d like to learn more about the law-making process, visit: http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/publications/billlaw.pdf

As always, please contact me with questions or suggestions regarding any issue. I encourage you to visit me at the Capitol, or let me know if you’d like me to stop by your home or apartment

 

This column was first printed in the East Side Review.

Senator Chuck Wiger
Chuck Wiger represents District 43, which includes portions of Ramsey and Washington counties in the northeastern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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