What happens to legislation that never makes it to a final vote?

An example of Michigan Open Meetings Act changes that never got a final vote in both the House and Senate, and how to track legislation in Michigan.

We hear a lot in the press and on social media about the end results of the legislative process, and bills that are hotly debated in committee or on the House or Senate floor. Some are passed and sent to the Governor for signing into law or the occasional veto.

Over the course of the two-year legislative session in Michigan, however, there are many bills introduced which die in committee. Every bill is assigned to a committee. Leadership makes decisions about which bills they will work on. So many bills are introduced, that there simply isn’t time to address all of them. Some have hearings, and are amended, but never quite make it to the “floor”, (meaning the full House or Senate) for a final vote.

In Michigan, there is an interesting example of this process where the ideas have carried over through two legislative sessions, but never quite made it to passage into law. I have followed this bill because I teach workshops on the Open Meetings Act.

Legislation was introduced early in the 2015-2016 session making changes to the Open Meetings Act (OMA) to define when local government officials could participate in meetings electronically from remote sites. While this seems like a great idea in our technological age, keep in mind that the OMA exists to ensure that government business is done in the open, with citizens having access to the process, and opportunity to comment along the way. This is more difficult to do if some board members are participating from remote locations, so efforts have been made to write legislation to provide guidelines.

The 2015-2016 bill was worked on in committee, with some amendments being made to it. The bill ultimately died there, never being scheduled for final votes.

HB4184 was introduced in the House in February of 2017. HB4184 was amended and passed by the full House in May, 2017 and was sent to the Senate. The Senate referred it to the Committee on Elections and Government Reform, where it waited for committee hearings and a possible vote to send it to the full Senate. A number of issues ultimately determine when or if that happens. The number and nature of other bills under consideration, relative importance of those issues to both legislators and the public, and other political considerations all affect the process. For HB4184, that did not happen during the 2017-2018 legislative session.

So, what happens next with the original content and amendments that were proposed in HB4184? If a current legislator thinks the issue needs to be addressed, it can be re-introduced as a new bill in the 2019-2020 session. People in Michigan can encourage their Representative or Senator to introduce changes similar to those contained in HB4184. Perhaps someone will introduce a bill with changes that are different than those contained in HB4184, which could make the new bill more or less likely to succeed.

It is easy for you to follow legislation in the Michigan Legislature. You can find their website at www.legislature.mi.gov or www.michiganlegislature.org . If you know the bill number, you can simply enter it in the top search box (bill number) and hit enter. Otherwise, you can type words that would be contained in the bill, such as ‘Open Meetings Act’, in the second search box (bill content) and hit enter.

The “How do I…” section towards the bottom of the legislature’s home page has a link to a page describing how you can be notified when the status of a bill changes. This is helpful when you want to follow the progress of a bill.

Michigan State University Extension’s Government and Community Vitality Team and the Center for Local Government Finance and Policy provide educational programs for government officials and citizens regarding many aspects of local and tribal governments in Michigan. Please contact the author at amrhein@msu.edu for more information.

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