Committees are of central importance to the state legislative process. In general, legislation is more thoroughly debated, and more likely to be significantly amended in committee than on the floor. Committee hearings are also the point in the legislative process where citizens are most
likely to have the opportunity to voice public support for or concerns about legislation.
The chair of each committee decides when the committee will meet and the bills that will be considered. The committee process allows an idea to be thoroughly discussed and debated by the legislators, the public and those who will be directly impacted by the bill.
Committees have several options when considering a bill. They can recommend the bill for passage, recommend that the bill not be passed, amend the bill, table the bill for discussion at a later date or, in some states, recommend the bill be sent to an interim study committee. If a bill is not
recommended for passage, it rarely moves to a full vote before the entire chamber (though leadership may pull the bill from committee and bring the bill up for a floor vote), and the bill is usually dead for the rest of session.
Committee chairs and ranking members play a key role in the legislative process and should be targeted in advocacy efforts, even when they do not represent your district. Information regarding standing committees and subcommittee membership can be found on your legislature’s website.
Once the bill has passed each of the committees to which it was referred, it is available to be voted on by the entire body of members.
Advocates can write to committee members and encourage a hearing on a bill(s) of concern. If possible, it is also helpful to meet with committee chairs to discuss legislation, and where they stand on a particular issue. For committee hearings, advocates can prepare and submit oral and/or written testimony. It is always helpful to recruit fellow advocates or allies to show strong numbers during hearings on key legislation.
Tip: Some states allow unscheduled testimony from the public, while others do not. If you’re interested in testifying, find out if your state allows unscheduled testimony from the floor. If it does not, contact the office of the committee chair, or a member of the committee who is sympathetic to your cause to inquire about testifying.