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How Does an Idea Become a California Law?

By Melanie Cuevas, Vice President of Government Relations

A new year also brings the start of California’s legislative process, where ideas are turned into measures in the hopes that they become law. And with our State Legislature creating an average of 1,000 new laws each year, a basic understanding of the “legislative process” is more important than ever – especially with veto-proof supermajorities in both houses of the California Legislature.

The Ground Rules

California’s full-time legislature generally begins the series of deadlines for committee hearings, votes, and Floor Session in January, running through September or October. Most measures require a simple majority vote. Some, including those with an “urgency” clause, meaning they go into effect immediately upon signature, as well as tax-related measures require a 2/3 vote to pass and are exempt from standard legislative deadlines. A series of deadlines, as outlined below, guide the process that moves an idea into a new California state law.

The Process

  • Introduction of Measures

Members of the Legislature author measures, working with Legislative Counsel to turn an idea into an actual bill, which receives a bill number when it is officially introduced. California’s legislature is bicameral, which means there are two chambers: the Assembly, with 80 members, and the Senate, with 40. Each member is limited to introducing 40 measures per legislative session, which lasts two-years and begins each odd year. Typically we expect to see upwards of 4,000 – 5,000 measures introduced each two-year session, with about half of those making it through the legislative process, to the Governor’s desk for signature or veto. This year’s deadline to introduce measures is February 17.

  • Committee Hearings

Thirty days after a measure has been introduced, it may be referred to the relevant policy committee within the house in which the measure was introduced (remember, Senators author Senate Bills and Assembly Members author Assembly Bills). Committees are comprised of a small subset of members in that house, appointed by leadership. The Assembly has 33 standing policy committees and is led by the Speaker; the Senate has 22 standing policy committees and is led by the President pro tempore. Through determination of the committees’ Chair, Vice Chair and membership positions, leadership can exercise significant influence over the fate of measures.

Committees vet measures though hearings, which includes testimony from key support and opposition witnesses as well as public comment, questions and debate by members of the committee, and a vote on whether to continue to move the measure through the process. The 2023 deadline for measures to receive approval from policy committees is April 28 for fiscal measures and May 5 for nonfiscal measures.

  • Fiscal Committee

Measures that incur a cost to the state of California go through an additional step and are also vetted by the Appropriations Committee, whose purpose is to examine fiscal impact, rather than policy considerations. During these hearings, the Department of Finance also sits at the witness table to provide the Administration’s official fiscal analysis. Noncontroversial measures with minor fiscal impact and no dissenting votes in preceding policy committee may receive expedited passage. Conversely, measures with a significant cost to the state (defined as $150,000 by the Assembly and as $50,000 to the General Fund or $150,000 to a special fund by the Senate) are sent to the Suspense File, which is considered in one hearing after the state budget has been prepared and the committee has a better sense of available revenue. This year’s deadline for the Appropriations Committee to hear and report measures introduced in their house is May 19.

  • Floor Vote

Measures that receive passing votes from policy committees and, if necessary, the Appropriations Committee, are then considered by all members of that house during Floor Session. Note that due to recently approved Proposition 54, measures must be in print for 72 hours before they are voted on. Measures must complete this crucial step by June 2 this year.

  • Second House

Once measures receive approval from their respective house of origin, the process begins again – for example, Assembly measures would now go through Senate policy committees and the Senate Appropriations Committee. The 2023 deadline for measures to be approved by the other house is September 1.

  • Governor’s Desk

Measures may generally be amended at any time throughout the process. When measures receive significant amendments in the second house, it must return to the house of origin for a full vote, giving opportunity to that body to review and concur in the new amendments. After passing both chambers, the measure goes to the governor’s desk for signature, veto or passage without signature. Veto rates tend to change based on who is doing the vetoing; current Governor Newsom currently has about an 85 percent signature rate for measures that reach his desk.


The steps outlined above summarize the lawmaking process, however, keep in mind additional nuances exist, including rule waivers, hearings of sub-committees, consent calendars, and even extraordinary sessions of the legislature, which we will also see in 2023. The California Bankers Association’s government relations team provides representation of our members, navigating the legislative process, providing input to decisionmakers, and expressing support or opposition on the many measures impacting the financial and business communities.