The start of Missouri’s 2019 legislative session is more than a month away, but already senators are hard at work drafting new laws. The scope of their efforts will become apparent Saturday, Dec. 1, the first day bills are officially posted in the public record.
The First Regular Session of the 100th General Assembly of the State of Missouri convenes at noon on Jan. 9 and will continue through May 17. During those four and a half months, the Missouri Senate will consider hundreds of bills. If historical averages hold true, more than a third of those measures will already have bill numbers when the opening gavel bangs the rostrum.
“Pre-filing” is a much-anticipated part of the legislative process. Although lawmakers may propose legislation through March 1, submitting bills prior to the start of the session allows senators to lay foundations for the year’s work, to highlight priorities and, perhaps, give favored measures a head start.
In 2017, the first year of the 99th General Assembly, 544 bills were presented to the Missouri Senate. Nearly 250 of those were pre-filed. The second session of that two-year legislative cycle saw even more bills pre-filed. In 2018, 303 bills – 54 percent of 558 bills considered – were filed before the start of formal business.
The title and number of every pre-filed Senate bill is read aloud in the chamber on the first day of the legislative session.
Although pre-filed bills are not official until December, the Missouri Constitution and Senate rules allow the secretary of the Senate to begin accepting draft legislation as early as July 1. Bills are sorted by sponsoring senator and assigned numbers in order of the author’s seniority. Traditionally, the longest-serving member of the Senate claims the coveted Senate Bill 1 slot during the first session of each General Assembly.
As pre-filed bills come into the secretary’s office, each of Missouri’s 34 senators, old hands and fresh faces alike, is allocated three consecutive spots in the bill order. The rotation repeats again until all pre-filed bills are numbered. Bill numbers assigned in 2020, during the second year of the coming General Assembly, will begin where this year’s list leaves off.
“Truth be told, there isn’t much practical advantage to a low bill number. Bills aren’t debated in the order they’re filed,” says Secretary of the Senate Adriane Crouse. “But it never hurts to be first. Bills are referred to legislative committees in numerical order so pre-filed measures may stand a greater chance of being heard in committee.”
Passing laws is a marathon, not a sprint, and although bills bunch up at the starting line, relatively few finish the race. Of the 558 bills the Missouri Senate considered in 2018, only 60 were “truly agreed and finally passed.” Two-thirds of the bills passed by the Missouri Senate in 2018 were pre-filed.
For many legislators, pre-filing is simply a way of tackling their “to-do” list. Bills are submitted as they’re ready, regardless of whether the Legislature is in session. Others place more significance on pre-filing. Submitting proposed legislation early can draw attention to particular issues and signal a senator’s focus for the coming year. Pre-filing especially significant bills helps set the agenda for the Legislature and garner publicity regarding the legislation.
Regardless of any strategic importance legislators may attach to pre-filing, Capitol observers can preview floor debates to come by looking at the bills legislators pre-file. Whether any of those bills actually become law remains to be seen, but pre-filing begins the process and sets a tone of promise and possibility inside the halls of government.
To see Senate bills submitted for consideration during the First Regular Session of the 100th General Assembly of the State of Missouri, log onto https://www.senate.mo.gov/legislation. Bills for the 2019 session will be available for viewing on Dec. 1, 2018.