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Pre-filing for 2020 Legislative Sessions Underway in 27 States

by John Haughey, FiscalNote

Think it's too early to work on the 2020 state sessions? Think again. With pre-filing, carry-over and budget requests and proposals already happening, you shouldn't waste a minute.

Forty-six state legislatures will convene in 2020, with 36 of those kicking off their sessions in January. Of those, 29 begin between January 7th and 14th. 

Texas, Montana, North Dakota, and Nevada lawmakers do not meet in even-numbered years.

But that's January. Don't be fooled that you can wait until the end of the year to start your 2020 state campaigns. In at least 27 states, the 2020 sessions have technically already begun, with lawmakers pre-filing bills for the upcoming legislature sessions.

Here’s the list of states open for pre-filing as of September 1.

Alabama                      Open-Feb. 3

Alaska                          Open-Jan. 1

Arizona                        Open-Jan. 12

Colorado                     Open-Jan. 3

Connecticut                Open [Fiscal bills only]

Florida                         Open-Jan. 13

Iowa                             Open-Jan. 10

Kansas                        Open-Jan. 10

Kentucky                     Open-Jan. 6

Louisiana     Open-Feb. 28

Maine                          Open-Jan. 7

Maryland             Open-Nov. 30

Massachusetts          Open 

Minnesota                  Open

Mississippi                 Open-Feb. 10

New Hampshire        Open

New Jersey               Open

New York                   Open

Oregon                      Open

Pennsylvania             Open

Rhode Island             Open             

South Carolina          Open [Even year only]

Tennessee                 Open [Even year only]

Utah                           Open [Even year only]

Vermont                     Open

West Virginia             Open [House, even-year only]

Wyoming                   Open [fiscal bills only]

Three more states, Georgia, Illinois, and Virginia, begin pre-filing in November. Another six, Missouri, Delaware, Indiana, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Washington begin in December and Hawaii allows pre-filing in January.

Eight states either do not allow pre-filing or, because they are in session year-round with intermittent recesses, don’t really have a pre-filing period.

FiscalNote State

How are you keeping on top of the 156,000+ bills introduced in the states this year?

The Specifics of Pre-filing

Pre-filed bills are formal proposals that provide legislative staffs the time to document, package, and format measures with greater detail and clarity.

Some states encourage lawmakers to pre-file bills. In Florida, for instance, House members are limited to filing six bills during a regular session, with at least two required to be pre-filed no later than the “sixth Tuesday prior to the first day of the regular session.” This year, that would be Dec. 3.

In Louisiana, lawmakers cannot introduce more than five bills that were not pre-filed while in Virginia, there are no restrictions on the number of bills lawmakers can pre-file, but once the session begins, delegates can introduce no more than five bills and senators no more than eight bills.

In many states, between the first year and second year of biennium sessions – the second year being the even-numbered year – legislators have more flexibility in pre-filing bills between the end of one session and the start of the next.

South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia are among the states that give lawmakers more latitude in pre-filing bills in even-numbered years than during the first year of biennium session.

Some states, particularly in the West, have biennium budgets that span two years. All bills during these second-year biennium sessions must be related to fiscal and budgetary issues.

Crossover and Carry-Over Bills

Not to be confused with pre-filed bills are crossover or carry-over bills. These are proposals introduced in the previous session that didn’t come to a vote. In some states, carry-over bills are automatically re-introduced at the beginning of the second-year session.

While lawmakers are pre-filing bills, and carry-over bills on committee dockets are being brushed off for re-introduction in many states, all states require their governors and state agencies to submit budget requests and proposals for regulatory changes in the months before, or in the days immediately after, legislatures convene.

So, long before anything “officially” happens in state houses, there is already a great deal of legislating already underway.

Pre-filing Advocacy

The pre-filing period provides an opportunity to investigate and comment on proposals, and to contact elected officials to convey support or opposition to specific measures.

This is not always possible once sessions begin because bills can move in a blur and the pace can make staying on top of proposals difficult.

Pre-filed bills are numbered and referred to a committee. The committee is where efforts by issue advocates, trade groups, associations, nonprofits, corporations and law firms are going to have the most impact, especially in informal pre-session gatherings where pending issues can be discussed.

Pre-filing also serves several purposes for bill sponsors and those advocating on an issue. For instance, a bill submitted before a legislative session can test the waters to gauge interest in an possible initiative that may, or may not, gain traction.

Minority party lawmakers and frustrated lobbyists and advocacy professionals who know their bills are unlikely to be addressed by partisan legislators in the party that controls their chambers – if they’re introduced at all – often use the pre-filing period to draw attention to their priorities. In other words, it’s a good way to make a political point without, necessarily, creating a new law.

Monitoring pre-filed bills gives everyone an opportunity to understand what is being proposed, and to be more proactive in orchestrating strategies and alliances.

Fiscal Note provides “daily alerts” when a bill is pre-filed before a legislature convenes, as well as tracking its passage through committee before and after lawmakers go into session.

FiscalNote State

How are you keeping on top of the 156,000+ bills introduced in the states this year?