The legislative process is the steps from when a bill is introduced until it’s enacted into law. Starting from the beginning, after a bill is introduced, it’s assigned to a committee. The bill will either “die in committee” or be sent to the full House or Senate for debate. In the House or Senate chambers, the bill’s merits will be debated, and if accepted, the bill moves to the other chamber where the process repeats. The second chamber may amend the bill, which results in a conference committee to resolve the changes. The Governor must then sign or veto the bill. If the bill is vetoed the legislature may sustain the veto or override it.
During this entire process, it’s important for citizens to make their voice heard via public comment. Public comments allow citizens to have input on bills, share lived experiences, indicate agreement or dissent, and suggest improvements to bills. Your legislators have the responsibility to answer to public feedback and ensure the bill addresses the needs of the community they represent.
You can offer public comment by contacting your PA legislators with a call, email, or visit to their office. You can also attend House Committee or Senate Committee meetings. Sometimes during these meetings there’s an opportunity to voice your thoughts on the proposed bill. Emailing prior to meetings is sometimes an option if contact information is given. If your legislator has opted in, you can also use Be the Change, a free and nonpartisan civic action platform that connects Pennsylvanians to the General Assembly to provide legislative feedback.
An effective public comment includes strong points backed up by data and community anecdotes. It’s important to outline what you agree and disagree with in the proposed bill. You should aim to be concise and avoid large walls of text. Organize your message into a list of general points with a separate detailed sentence. This will allow the legislative office to record the feedback for future reference and respond to you. In the end, it’s always good to remember your legislators want to know how the proposed bill will affect the community they represent and you’re the best means for them to achieve this goal.
Where is it most effective in the public comment process to offer public comment?
A timeline may be officially set by the legislature for when public comment period opens and closes for specific bills. It’s generally assumed a bill is open for public comment when a co-sponsorship memo is circulated by the Prime Sponsor of the bill. During this time you can contact your representative directly to bend your legislator’s ear for or against an issue you care about. The key here is to remember your legislator has the option to opt in or out of co-sponsoring the bill.
After the bill is sent to committee, you can contact the Committee Chair or other members of the committee during the review process. Voicing your opinion while the bill is workshopped will prove dissent or support for the proposed legislation. This is also a good time to propose changes to the bill. If the bill does not gain enough support during committee, it will not move on to debate in either larger chamber and will “die in committee.”
You should voice public comment before the bill is enacted. Your state legislature functions to serve you and your voice often directly impacts state government more than federal government. So, what are you waiting for? As a first step, head over to Be the Change and find out who represents you in the PA House and Senate.