Othni J. Lathram Director, Legislative Services Agency
James L. Entrekin, Jr. General Counsel, Legislative Services Agency
The Rules: How Things Get Done
The reach of the Alabama Legislature is immense. Its constitutional and plenary authority allows it to pass laws that not only govern and impact the lives of Alabama's citizens and guests that travel within its borders, but also laws that, to a large degree, control the scope and authority of most all other government functions. During a typical Alabama Legislative Session, there are usually over 1,000 bills introduced for consideration; bills that either create a new law, or amend or repeal an existing law. However, out of the thousands of bills introduced, only about a third of those bills become law. So, one may ask, "How does the process work with so many bills competing for priority? "Who or what controls the introduction, consideration, and passage of pieces of legislation, including all the details that go along with this important process? In other words, what governs the process for legislative consideration of laws? These are important questions to know the answers to for anyone interested in the passage or defeat of any proposed law that impacts, or could potentially impact their lives, the lives of their loved ones, or their checkbooks, for that matter. This should be especially important to those who are familiar with the impact of laws on our daily lives, or whose livelihoods revolve around the law... like lawyers!
Alabama's Constitution establishes only a few key directions and controlling principles that govern the process for the consideration of bills by the legislature, such as the requirements that each piece of legislation contain only a single subject and be considered or publicized in each chamber for three separate days before a final vote is taken, the prohibition against changing a bill's original purpose via subsequent amendment, and the requirement that each bill be considered by a standing committee of each chamber before being voted on by that body. The Alabama Constitution also establishes that laws must be passed by a majority of votes cast (proposed constitutional amendments require a three-fifths vote). But what about other important details like the procedures for how bills are debated, what committees exist, and who comprises the committees? There is also the all-important...