As the year winds down, not all states have hit the pause button. While the majority have indeed adjourned or entered recess until 2024, a few states remain in perpetual motion. And even those seemingly at rest are quietly bustling with pre-filing, giving lawmakers — and government affairs pros — a chance to seize a head start.
States operating on a biennial basis, where the legislature meets for two consecutive years, allow lawmakers to continuously introduce legislation between the 2023 and 2024 sessions. While some that meet annually are gearing up for their 2024 legislatures with pre-filing timelines and other preparatory work.
So, if you thought the fall of an off-election year would be quiet, think again. There’s still plenty for state policymakers to do in the last few months of 2023, which means plenty of opportunities for your organization to get your issues on the agenda for next year’s sessions. Here’s an overview of what you need to know about pre-filing, legislative session dates, and more.
What You Should Know About 2023-2024 Biennial State Legislative Session Dates
In 25 states, legislatures convene in odd-numbered years and remain in session until the following even-numbered year.
Of those, 16 have gone into recess for the remainder of the year: Alaska, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vermont.
The rest remain in session into the fall months: North Carolina, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. North Carolina will go into recess on September 30 and Massachusetts on November 15. The rest will continue to meet through the end of the year.
Annual Legislative Session Dates and Other Legislative Schedules
There are 19 states that hold annual legislative sessions. These states — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming — convene a new group of legislators at the beginning of each year.
The majority of these states will convene in January of 2024. The exceptions are Connecticut, Oregon, and Wyoming, which will convene in February; Louisiana, which won’t convene until March; and Arkansas, which convenes for a fiscal session in April.
New Jersey and Virginia have legislatures that convene in even-numbered years and adjourn in odd-numbered years. Both have adjourned, but Virginia is currently in a special session estimated to last until September 29.
Finally, there are four states that only convene their legislatures in odd-numbered years, so won’t be holding any legislative session in 2024: Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, and Texas.
2024 Pre-filing Dates
Many states have already started accepting pre-filed bills, while others will begin in the next few months.
Already in 2024 Pre-filing Mode
Many states with biennial legislatures allow bills to be filed at any point between the end of the 2023 session and the beginning of the 2024 session. There are also several states with flexible pre-filing rules that allow bills to be filed several months before the start of the 2024 session. Pre-filed bills may not be made publicly available until later dates, which have not been announced at the time of publishing.
As a result, pre-filing has already begun in the following states:
November, December Pre-filing Periods
November and December are busy months for pre-filing, with 12 states beginning their proposal period in the final months of 2023.
November Pre-filing Start Dates
Nov. 1 — Maryland
Nov. 15 — Arizona, Georgia, New Jersey, New York
Nov. 20 — Virginia
December Pre-filing Start Dates
Dec. 1 — Colorado, Missouri, Vermont
Dec. 4 — Washington
Dec. 10 — South Dakota, West Virginia
2024 Pre-filing Periods
A handful of remaining states will begin the pre-filing process in early 2024.
January Pre-filing Start Dates
Jan. 2 — New Mexico
Jan. 7 — Hawaii
March Pre-filing Start Dates
March 11 — Arkansas (budgetary bills only)
Many states allow pre-filing until the beginning of the 2024 session, but others impose deadlines on when pre-session bills can be filed. Among them:
Florida — Jan. 5
Kentucky — Nov. 18
Maryland — Nov. 20
Maine — Sept. 29
New Mexico — Jan. 12
No Pre-filing Practiced
Seven states — California, Connecticut, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin — and the District of Columbia don’t permit or practice pre-filing. In these states, all proposals are submitted when the legislature convenes.
There are also a few states that only accept pre-filing before the first year of a biennium, and so will not be accepting pre-filing in 2024. These include Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, as well as all states with legislatures that don’t meet in even-numbered years.
Information about 2024 pre-filing procedures for Alaska, Idaho, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and South Carolina is not publicly available.
Pre-Filing State Nuances
Just as each state has rules and regulations for proposing and adopting laws, they also have very specific processes for pre-filing procedures. No two states are alike, so it’s important to study the nuances of each state’s rules before attempting to pre-file a bill.
For example, certain states mandate that pre-filed bills be exclusively sponsored and submitted by legislators, while others allow pre-filings by committees, individuals, groups, the governor, state agencies, and state supreme courts.
Some states also stipulate which types of bills can be pre-filed — budgetary bills, bill amendments, bills that impact certain citizens, and so on. Certain states limit the number of bills a member may pre-file. In Colorado, for instance, legislators are capped at five pre-filed bills. Of those five bills, excluding appropriations and interim bills, no more than two bills may be requested after Dec. 1.
A few states have separate deadlines for requesting drafts of pre-filed bills and submitting those drafts. Maryland is one — members have to submit their draft requests by Nov. 1 and approve those drafts by Nov. 20. In Florida, members are limited to seven pre-filed bills. They must submit all draft requests by Nov. 14, submit at least two of their allotted seven by Nov. 20, and submit all pre-filed bills by Jan. 5.
Many states convene only for brief budgetary sessions in even-numbered years, so naturally, the pre-filed bills submitted in those years must be budget-related. Wyoming senators can pre-file a maximum of three budget-related bills for the second year of a biennium. In Arkansas, the legislature will meet briefly to discuss fiscal legislation beginning on April 10, and pre-filing budgetary bills for that session begins on March 11.
Why Monitor Pre-filed Bills?
Pre-filed bills are formal proposals that provide legislative staff time to document, package, and format measures in greater detail and clarity. When a bill is pre-filed, it is numbered — which means it can be found, researched, and tracked — and, in most states, referred to a committee.
Pre-filing streamlines the law-making process and allows legislative staff to assemble the proper paperwork and formatting necessary to usher a bill into committees and, eventually, onto chamber floors.
Most states require pre-filed bills to be formally introduced (“first reading”) and assigned to committees, where they may or may not be heard. It is at the committee level during informal pre-session gatherings where pending issues can be discussed in greater detail than what may be possible during frantically paced legislative sessions.
Getting pre-filed bills into committees is where efforts by advocates, trade groups, associations, nonprofits, corporations, and law firms have the most impact. It is critical to do so because the pre-filing period before a session convenes provides an opportunity to investigate and comment on proposals, and to contact elected officials to convey support or opposition to specific measures.
While monitoring pre-filed bills presents an opportunity to plan ahead, the pre-filing period also provides an effective tool for organizations to employ in getting their draft legislation seen before sessions begin.
Minority party lawmakers and issue advocates who know their bills are unlikely to be addressed by legislators in the party that controls their chambers — if they are introduced at all — often use the pre-filing period to draw attention to their priorities. While pre-filed bills might have no chance of being adopted or even introduced in committee, they can garner media attention for a cause or a candidate.
Another benefit to keeping tabs on pre-filed bills through a state legislative tracking tool is staying on top of “carry-over” bills, proposals that were introduced in the last legislative session but didn’t come to a vote. In some states, carry-over bills are automatically re-introduced at the beginning of the next session.
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