Lobbying Bill Referrals

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By Chris Micheli

An area that is rarely talked about in California’s Capitol community concerns the infrequent lobbying of bill referrals. In other words, how does someone get a bill referred to a favorable committee? Or an unfavorable committee? Or maybe multiple committees? In most instances, the policy committee to which a bill will be referred is relatively straightforward. For example, a bill amending the Code of Civil Procedure will mostly likely be referred to the Judiciary Committee in each house or a bill amending the Streets and Highways Code will most often be referred to the Transportation Committee in either the Senate or Assembly.

Nonetheless, sometimes a lobbyist may want a bill to be referred to a friendlier committee for a sponsored bill or to a hostile committee for a bill that he or she opposes. This raises the question: How does a lobbyist try to influence where a bill will be referred by the respective Rules Committees of the Senate and Assembly?

There really is little formal guidance on lobbying bill referrals and few lobbyists ever try to influence where a bill is or is not referred by the respective Rules Committees of the California Legislature. As such, the best advice is like that which is given in other, similar situations. It is usually most valuable to talk with all those persons who can and do provide input on referrals of bills in the Assembly and Senate.

As stated earlier, while the bill referral process is often clear, there are occasions when a lobbyist would prefer a bill to go to a specific committee or even two, as well as instances where he or she would rather a bill not get sent to a particular committee due to its composition or other reasons. In those instances, a determination must be made about possible committees that may be appropriate recipients of the bill.

A lobbyist must review the bill in detail. He or she should review: the code section(s) being added, amended or repealed by the bill (this is one criterion for determining the appropriate policy committee(s)); the subject matter of the bill (because policy committees have jurisdiction over subject matters, a bill may be appropriately referred to more than one committee); as well as the committee’s membership and staff (to determine how the particular bill may be received by the committee).

Once the lobbyist has determined where a bill would ideally be referred (or not referred if that is the case), then he or she needs to tackle the respective Rules Committee (i.e., the Assembly for an AB and the Senate for a SB). In each house, there is a staff person who is responsible for reviewing and recommending all bill referrals. This person’s title is Bill Referral Consultant.

When it comes to lobbying the Rules Committee, there are the members of the Rules Committees and then the Chairs and Vice Chairs of each of those committees in either house. Again, in both the Assembly and Senate, there are Bill Referral Consultants who are charged will reviewing and making recommendations regarding to which committee(s) a bill should be referred. These two individuals must review every bill and every amendment to determine the proper committee referral.

In addition to their own review and analysis, the Bill Referral Consultants work with individual policy committee consultants in their respective houses in order to help in making the correct bill referral determination. Ultimately, the decision is made by the Rules Committee members after the Chair makes a recommendation. In the vast majority of those recommendations, it is done unanimously. But there are instances where the minority party would like a bill to be referred to a different committee(s).

As a lobbyist, it is important to communicate with both the Rules Committee staff as well as the Republican Caucus consultant who handles bill referrals. There is much more cooperation and collaboration, as well as less partisanship, concerning the work of the Rules Committees in both the Assembly and the Senate in comparison to the policy and fiscal committees of the Legislature. Nonetheless, bill referrals can be controversial because referral of a bill to a particular committee can mean a bill will more likely pass to the Floor or not. As a result, lobbying on bill referrals can create additional tension or controversy on a particular measure.

In general, bill referrals are first made based upon committee subject matter jurisdiction, then the treatment of prior bills that are similar in nature, and then requests are considered, which is then discussed by the Bill Referral Consultant with policy committee staff.

It is important to talk with policy committee staff before the referral is made so that the committee can request the bill. These requests are usually not denied because the Rules Committee works cooperatively with policy committee staff. Also, the policy committees attempt to protect the jurisdiction of their committee. As such, they rarely want to cede jurisdiction over a bill if it relates to their committee and especially if they have considered a similar bill in prior years.

The harder lobbying task is thwarting a bill’s referral, especially when the policy committee has requested the bill or the bill is normally in the jurisdiction of that policy committee. In these cases, a lobbyist will have to persuade the Rules Committee why the bill is more appropriately before a different committee. The lobbyist may ask whether there is precedent for doing so from prior years. Also, how did the other house treat that bill? The fundamental question is “why should committee X get this bill and not committee Y?”

In some instances, the policy staff of the Speaker and/or the Pro Tem need to be consulted as well. While most bill referrals are relatively straightforward, when there is a controversial bill or interest groups lobbying for or against a bill referral, then many more people get involved and have input into a bill’s referral. In such cases, therefore, a lobbyist must contact numerous key staff members about the bill referral.

In California, neither the Assembly nor the Senate refers a bill to more than three policy committees (termed a triple referral). If there were more referrals for a single bill, then some may argue that the bill might actually violate the California Constitution’s prohibition on more than a single subject in one bill.

Finally, the determination of whether a bill is referred to a fiscal committee (called the Appropriations Committee in both the Assembly and Senate) is primarily based upon whether the Legislative Counsel has “keyed” the bill fiscal, based upon its application of Joint Rule 10.5. However, even if a bill has not been keyed fiscal, either Appropriations Committee may still request the measure; similarly, even if a bill has been keyed fiscal, either Appropriations Committee may waive jurisdiction of the bill. This rarely happens because the fiscal committee does not want to be seen as ceding any subject matter jurisdiction.

Chris Micheli is a Principal with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law in its Capital Lawyering Program.

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