Fast and Furious in the State Capitol

It is often said in the halls of the State Capitol, “Don’t fall in love with your bill.” For those new to the legislative process, there is a good reason to heed that advice.


Late last month, the State Legislature hit the first major deadline for the 2019 Session – with all bills needing to be introduced for the year.  This year likely broke a record for the most bills introduced in a calendar year with 2,576. By comparison, since 2012 the average number of bills introduced was approximately 2,200.


The Legislature has an aggressive agenda in 2019 with bills on healthcare, firearm safety, water, housing, environmental protection, childcare, immigration, and emergency preparedness, among other important issues. Many issues are being revived after being vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown over the past eight years.


While most of the bills introduced try to address specific issues, there are nearly 700 bills that have what is called “intent language,” meaning the real substance of the legislation will not be put into the bill for weeks. So, while we now know most of the big issues that will be discussed this session, there are still many more that are likely to be coming throughout the Spring.


This is the first year of the two-year session, where each Assemblymember can introduce up to 50 bills and a Senator up to 40 bills. From here the bills must sit in print for 30 days before they can be eligible for a policy committee hearing and vote. If approved in policy committee, most bills head to the Appropriations Committee of their respective house.  If approved there, the bills go to the floor of the Assembly or the Senate for a full vote of the chamber. If the bill passes its house of origin, it then goes through the same process in the other house.  For example, Assembly bills approved by the Assembly then go to the Senate for consideration and Senate bills to the Assembly.


If a bill is amended in the second house it must also get a final vote in the original house before consideration by the Governor. Once received, the Governor has 12 days to sign or veto the bill, unless he receives the bill on or after the last day of session – September 13 – in which he then has until October 13 to act on the legislation.


As you can tell, it is a significant journey for a bill to become law in California, however it is done in just 7 short months. Of all these bills, less than half will make their way through the entire process and be signed into law, on average.


Legislators, staff, lobbyists and reporters will be watching closely to see if having a record number of Democrats in the Legislature will affect these averages. Another question is whether or not the new Governor, Gavin Newsom,will sign or veto more bills than his predecessors.


Here are some interesting comparisons of previous Governors (data provided by Chris Micheli):


  • Between 2011 and 2018, GovernorJerry Brown vetoed between 10.7 percent and 16.5 percent of the bills
  • Between 2004 and 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed between 22.2 percent and 35 percent of the bills
  • Between 1999 and 2003, Governor Gray Davis vetoed between 6 percent and 25 percent of the bills
  • Between 1991 and 1998, Governor Pete Wilson vetoed between 8.6 percent and 24.5 percent of the bills
  • Between 1983 and 1990, Governor George Deukmejian vetoed between 9.5 percent and 20.3 percent of the bills
  • Between 1975 and 1982, Governor Brown vetoed between 1.8 percent and 7.9 percent of the bills


So far it appears Governor Newsom is much more engaged in the legislative process early on. Past governors often didn’t get too engaged in bills until they were closer to or even on the governor’s desk for consideration. Governor Newsom clearly has a much more hands on approach, which for most legislative office is a welcome sign.


Getting your issue through the entire process only to have it vetoed after months of work can be heartbreaking. Thus, why it is best to take the advice of not falling in love with your bill.



Adam Keigwin is Managing Director in the Sacramento office of Mercury Public Affairs (