I’m Just a Bill
The process of getting a bill to the House floor is not for sissies. It is an incredibly frustrating process and is full of emotional highs and lows. We don’t actually write our own bills. We take our ideas to the legislative Counsel office, and the lawyers write the text. This ensures that the specific code section is cross-referenced, struck out, or added to appropriately. After the drafted bill is picked up from the legislative Counsel office, it is necessary to get other House members to sign on to co-sponsor your bill. This is why it is important to establish relationships with colleagues. I have tried from the beginning to meet all my colleagues and get to know them personally. Asking someone to sign onto your bill shouldn’t be the first conversation you have with them. Early on, a couple of people who I had literally never met asked me to sign onto bills, and it was a little awkward. It also kind of makes you wonder why that person is having to ask a freshman who is a complete stranger.
I have had three bills drafted. After I got all my signatures on them, I turned each bill in to the House clerk, and the process began. Each bill is read on the House floor twice and is then assigned to a committee. My first two bills didn’t get any traction at all and were not even heard in committee. This was a little frustrating, but I figured it was par for the course for a freshman.
My third bill, HB 538, is the Georgia Early Literacy Act, and this one is important, given our state’s lackluster reading scores. This bill actually has legs and is moving through the process. After I filed it, and it appeared on the House website, I began to hear from various groups – parent groups, school superintendents and their advocacy groups, State School Board members, and the Department of Education. I met with tons of people and talked to even more on the phone and over email and listened to their concerns and comments about the bill. It’s really important to listen to everyone, even if you can’t do the thing they are asking you to do. Politics is about relationships; everyone has an opinion and comes to the table with their own views and experiences. Changes were made based on these conversations, and the first substitute was drafted. I also got lots of input from the chairman of the Education committee and some representatives who have been serving for awhile. Asking questions and asking for advice is really important around here. I’ve been here eight weeks; there are quite a few people who know more than I do. Substitute bill number two was drafted.
I presented my bill in subcommittee, and I found out the only thing more nerve wracking than chairing a meeting was presenting a bill to the committee. The coolest thing by far was that a group of moms showed up wearing t-shirts that said “VOTE YES TO HB 538.” It was really heartening to have these ladies sitting right behind me supporting me and advocating for their children. My bill passed out of subcommittee and then went on to the full Education Committee. We met early Thursday morning, and my bill got picked apart. There were about a bazillion amendments made to it. This is where frustration began to set in. It’s really hard to stand at a podium and smile while your work is picked apart as a livestream camera broadcasts it to the world. This was extremely humbling. Amendments meant there was another substitute bill that needed to be drafted. Substitute number three.
Finally my bill passed out of committee, and I was so excited because I was going to get my bill heard in Rules Committee which is the last step before the full House. WRONG! Nope! Not so fast, chicky! It turned out that Legislative Counsel found some errors that came from all the amendments made in committee. At this point I was extremely frustrated and feeling pretty low because time is critical. If bills aren’t heard on the House floor and passed out on Monday (Crossover Day), they won’t go to the Senate. However, I really tried to act like a grown up, and I worked like a dog to get substitute bill number four finished. At this point, I began to be fairly sure the people in the Legislative Counsel office were tired of seeing me. The Education Committee met again late Thursday afternoon after we adjourned from a very long floor session, and we fixed my bill and passed it out, along with a couple of others.
That brings us to today, Friday, which is not a floor day. Usually, I head back home on Thursday evenings to see my husband and children. However, I came back to the Capitol to get some face time with the chairman of the Rules Committee. He determines what bills he hears in his committee and which bills get to the House floor. Fortunately, I got to know him during my campaign, and I see him almost every day on the House floor. This means, when I went to talk to him, I didn’t have to introduce myself. He already knows (and hopefully likes) me. I’ll probably spend the weekend communicating with House leadership to advocate, and maybe beg a little, for my bill. The Rules Committee meets on Monday morning, and I’ll be in line waiting to be called to present.
Monday is Crossover Day — the day that determines the rest of the legislative session. It determines which legislation ultimately moves from the House to the Senate and vice versa. Hopefully, my bill will be one of them.