How Committees Work
When a bill or resolution is first introduced in the House of Representatives or the Senate, it is sent to a committee that deals with its particular issue. At committee meetings, elected members delegated by the House or Senate consider and make recommendations considering dispositions of bills, resolutions, and other matters referred to them. Committees are appointed by the Speaker of the House or the Senate Majority Leader and are organized according to subject matter.
There are permanent House committees and permanent Senate committees. These “standing” committees contain from five to thirty members and are appointed for two-year periods. The Appropriations Committees are subdivided in subcommittees where bills with monetary implications are assigned for discussion, analysis and revision before being presented to the full committee for action. When a bill is referred to a standing committee, the members of that committee have a choice in the actions they may take on any bill: report a bill with a favorable recommendation, or without recommendation; report a bill with amendments, with or without recommendation; report a substitute bill in place of the original bill; report a bill and recommend that it be referred to another committee; or take no action on a bill (committees are not required to “report out” a bill).
Although one of the chief functions of a committee is to “screen out” undesirable bills, arbitrary refusal of a committee to report out a bill can be remedied by a motion to “discharge the committee from further consideration of the bill.” If the motion is approved by a majority of members, the bill is placed on the order of Second Reading in the House or General Orders in the Senate.
As a rule, all standing committee meetings are open to the public. Exceptions are extremely rare. Most committee business is conducted during the meeting and most committee action requires the approval of a majority of those appointed and serving on the committee. If there are a sufficient number of affirmative votes, the bill is reported out.
There are several other types of committees set up by the legislature to achieve certain goals. Special committees may be created by a House or Senate Resolution and appointed by the Speaker and/or Senate Majority Leader. These committees are generally appointed to serve during a specified time period. The number of members of these committees will vary according to the specifications of the Resolution. For the most part, these committees are used to study and investigate topics of special interest, such as railroads, aging, urban mass transportation, nursing home issues, etc.
Another type of committee is the joint committee. Several of these are established by statute. These committees, like standing committees, are appointed for two-year periods, but membership consists of both Representatives and Senators.