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Frequently Asked Questions About the Minnesota Legislature

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Bills

1. What is a bill?

Answer

A bill is a proposal for a new law, a change in current law, repeal of a current law, or for a constitutional amendment. It consists of a title, enacting clause and body (text), which is examined and approved in its form by the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. In the Senate, bills are called Senate Files. Bills are referred to as House Files in the House of Representatives.

2. What is a resolution?

Answer

Resolutions are formal actions of the Legislature which express intent on the part of one or both bodies, but are not codified into Minnesota statutes upon passage. Each body can pass a separate resolution to express individual intent. They can also pass resolutions jointly or concurrently. The Revisor of Statutes Bill Drafting Manual has a chapter that discusses the different types of resolutions and more.

3. Who can draft a bill?

Answer

Anyone - legislators, staff members, state or local agency employees, private groups or individual people. For more information on drafting, see Guidance on Crafting Amendments. However, only a legislator can introduce a bill or a resolution after the Revisor of Statutes has approved its form. In addition, many Senators and Representatives approach staff members to help them draft a bill. House Research, Senate Counsel and Research, the Office of the Revisor of Statutes, and caucus staff members are often called upon to help.

4. What is the process for introducing a bill?

Answer

Any member can introduce a bill. There is no limit to the number of bills and resolutions a member can introduce. However, there are limits to the number of co-authors. In the House, there can only be 35 authors; in the Senate, the limit is five. Once a bill is introduced in either house, the chief author may find someone to carry the companion bill in the other body. A companion bill is usually identical when introduced, though that may change. In the House, the Speaker of the House assigns each bill and numbered resolution to one of the standing committees. The Chief Clerk of the House then assigns each House File a number, which will identify the bill in its travels. The Senate has traditionally used a somewhat different path to introduction. Bills and resolutions are given a number by the Secretary of the Senate's Office and assigned to a committee by the Senate President.

Once introduced, a bill must travel through the committee process. If it is a House bill, it would go through the necessary policy committee and if it has financial implications, a finance committee. Then it is ready to go to the floor. A bill receives three readings before members debate it and take a final vote. Many bills never make it that far. Of the 3,500 bills introduced in the House and Senate each year, only about 15 percent actually become law. If the bill is a Senate bill, the measure follows a parallel procedure through the Senate.

Once a bill has passed on the House floor, the bill must travel to the Senate. If it is a Senate bill, it must also go to the House after passage by the full Senate. Once the bill is approved by both bodies, it goes to the governor for his approval. If he signs the bill, it becomes law.

How a bill becomes law in Minnesota combines information from the various offices of the Minnesota Legislature on the process of lawmaking in Minnesota.

5. Is unrelated legislation permitted to be attached to bills? Who decides what is germane?

Answer

Under the Minnesota Constitution, Article 4, Sec. 17, only single subject laws may be passed by the Legislature. Theoretically, this requires that only amendments directly related, or "germane" to the measure, be attached to a bill. (The term "garbage bill" is sometimes used when a bill contains what some people feel are unrelated subjects.)

When a bill is being amended in committee, the committee chair rules whether an amendment is germane; on the House floor, the Speaker of the House makes those decisions. In the Senate, the committee chair makes the same rulings, and such decisions are left up to the President of the Senate on the floor. At times the courts have been asked to rule on this matter.

6. What is an omnibus bill?

Answer

An omnibus bill is a large bill that is generally made up of numerous smaller bills on the same broad topic. For example, an omnibus tax bill may cover various changes in several areas of tax law including income, corporate, and sales taxes. Often the smaller bills are heard in committee and then laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill rather than passing each bill separately.

7. Are there rules as to which bills can be introduced in each body?

Answer

Yes. All bills that raise revenue must originate in the House. Otherwise, it does not matter where a bill begins.

8. What happens when a bill has passed one body but not the other?

Answer

The best way to explain this is to take an example. Say a Senate version of a bill passes the Senate before the House companion bill passes the House. In such a case, the Senate file is transmitted to the House, and if the House companion is still in a House committee, the Senate bill is referred to that same committee. Any further action on that bill is done to the Senate bill, though the committee may insert the House language if there are differences.

If the House companion has already gone through the committee process and awaits action on the floor, then the two bills are "referred for comparison," where they are compared to one another and the differences are reported. If the bills are identical, the Senate bill is substituted for the House version and all future actions are to the Senate bill. If they are not identical, the rules must be suspended to substitute the Senate bill with its differences for the House bill.

In the House, the language of the bill that already has passed the Senate automatically takes the place of the language that was recommended by the House committee. If the chief author wants to go back to the House language, he or she makes a motion to amend and substitute the House language for the language passed by the Senate.

In the Senate, the procedure is different. When a House bill is substituted for a Senate bill on the Senate floor, the Senate automatically places the Senate language back into the bill. The Senate author must then propose an amendment if he or she wishes to use the House language.

Ultimately, both bodies must agree to any changes made to the bills. If they don't agree, the bills go to a conference committee. That committee reaches a compromise that must be accepted by both bodies. However, once a conference committee makes its recommendation, the bill cannot be amended by either the House or the Senate. The only alternative is to accept the conference committee report or send it back to the conference committee for further work.

After both bodies have passed the bill in identical form, it goes to the governor for approval or veto.

9. Is a bill dead if it fails on final passage?

Answer

Not necessarily. Either body can still take up a bill again as long as the session has not adjourned. In fact, bills are technically alive over the course of a biennium so a bill that was introduced in 2001 and didn't pass could still be discussed until final adjournment in 2002. When a bill fails to get the required number of votes, the author can try to persuade other members to change their opinions on the measure. The only way such a bill can be taken up for a vote again is if a member who voted against the bill is willing to make a motion for reconsideration and the body agrees to reconsider. In addition, many bills that either don't receive a floor vote or are voted down on the floor end up as amendments to other bills of similar topic.

10. What is a veto?

Answer

Veto is the constitutional power of the governor to reject a bill. The bill is returned to the house of origin with a veto message.

11. What are line-item and pocket vetoes?

Answer

A line-item veto is the power of the governor to reject one or more items of appropriations in a bill, while approving the rest of the bill. A pocket veto occurs when the governor fails to sign a bill within 14 days after the Legislature has adjourned sine die (the end of the biennial session), preventing its reconsideration by the Legislature.

12. Is there a limit to the number of bills a governor can veto?

Answer

No.

13. Is there a timeline for the governor to sign bills?

Answer

Once the governor has the bill, he or she may: sign it, and the bill becomes law; veto it within three days; or allow it to become law by not signing it. During session, the House and Senate can override a governor's veto. This requires a two-thirds vote in the House (90 votes) and Senate (45 votes). The governor also may "line-item veto" parts of a money bill, or "pocket veto" a bill passed during the last three days of the session by not signing it within 14 days after final adjournment.

For a more detailed explanation, see Article IV Sec. 23 of the Minnesota Constitution, which states:

"Sec. 23. Approval of bills by governor; action on veto. Every bill passed in conformity to the rules of each house and the joint rules of the two houses shall be presented to the governor. If he approves a bill, he shall sign it, deposit it in the office of the secretary of state and notify the house in which it originated of that fact. If he vetoes a bill, he shall return it with his objections to the house in which it originated. His objections shall be entered in the journal. If, after reconsideration, two-thirds of that house agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the governor’s objections, to the other house, which shall likewise reconsider it. If approved by two-thirds of that house it becomes a law and shall be deposited in the office of the secretary of state. In such cases the votes of both houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for or against the bill shall be entered in the journal of each house. Any bill not returned by the governor within three days (Sundays excepted) after it is presented to him becomes a law as if he had signed it, unless the legislature by adjournment within that time prevents its return. Any bill passed during the last three days of a session may be presented to the governor during the three days following the day of final adjournment and becomes law if the governor signs and deposits it in the office of the secretary of state within 14 days after the adjournment of the legislature. Any bill passed during the last three days of the session which is not signed and deposited within 14 days after adjournment does not become a law."

14. Are there any legislative calendar deadlines?

Answer

There is no yearly deadline for the introduction of bills. However, each year the Legislature establishes deadlines for committee action on bills. The Legislature shall establish by concurrent resolution deadlines for each regular session. The deadlines do not apply to the House committees on Capital Investment, Ways and Means, Taxes, or Rules and Legislative Administration, nor to the Senate committees on Capital Investment, Finance, Taxes, or Rules and Administration.

Committee deadlines are announced during the first half of a session in order to winnow the list of topics to be dealt with that year.

15. Can the Legislature override the governor's veto? Is there a limit to that privilege?

Answer

Yes, the Legislature can override vetoes, including vetoes of line items, as noted in article IV, section 23 of the Minnesota Constitution. The action must receive a two-thirds majority in both houses (90 in the House and 45 in the Senate) in order to achieve this. There is no limit to the privilege, though successfully overriding a veto has been rare over the course of the state's history. For historical data on vetoes and override attempts, visit the Legislative Library's Web page Bills Vetoed.

16. What happens to bills remaining on the various calendars or in a conference committee at the end of the first session of a biennium?

Answer

In the Senate, a bill remaining on General Orders (General Register in the House), the Calendar, or the Consent Calendar is returned to the standing committee (other than the Committee on Rules and Administration) from which it was last reported to the Senate. Bills must receive a favorable committee hearing again before being returned to the floor the next year. In the second year of a biennium, bills left on the various calendars are considered dead and must be re-introduced the following year. The same procedure applies in the House.

17. How do I find bills on a particular subject that were passed in a previous session?

Answer

Information about bills back to the 1993-94 session are available on the Legislature's Legislation and Bill Status web page. The Senate Information Office at (651) 296-0504 or toll free 1-888-234-1112 (TTY (651) 296-0250 or toll free 1-888-234-1216), and the House Index office at (651) 296-6646 can answer this question. It is sometimes more convenient to check the House or Senate Journals and index directly for bill introductions, and Session Laws and index for laws passed. The index section of the permanent Journal for a particular session contains a numerical list of Senate bills and House bills which show official titles, Journal page references, and chapter numbers for all bills passed by the Senate and the House. There is also a subject index with cross references, an author index, and a companion bill list.

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