How Laws are Made in Iowa

It’s that time again where we are inundated with those annoying political ads and door-to-door solicitors.  What you may not know is that it is also the time of year when the future of Iowa law is being shaped.  Right now our elected legislators are working to try to create new laws and amend existing laws.  The media has covered a number of controversial proposed legislation lately: an anti-abortion bill; the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”; and paying college student-athletes.  While these bills have grabbed the headlines, there are many other bills that have gone under the radar that would affect GRL clients and the general public to a greater extent.  Some of these include hard-line limitations on damages available for persons injured due to medical malpractice, banning all handheld use of mobile devices while operating a vehicle, and changes to the sex offender registry modification law – which would make it nearly impossible for sex offenders to be removed from the registry.

So how is a law made?  For those who are too young to have ever seen the Schoolhouse Rock “I’m Just a Bill” video, here is how a law is made.

It all begins with an idea.  All different kinds of people have ideas for laws.  The ideas can come from individual citizens, companies, special interest groups, etc.  When someone has an idea for a law, they relate that idea to their legislator.  The legislator will have a legislative service agency draft the bill.

The drafted bill is then sent either to the House or Senate where it is assigned a number and assigned to a standing committee within that chamber.  The committee then assigns the bill to a subcommittee.  The subcommittee, which usually is comprised of three legislators, will hold a hearing for that bill.  During the subcommittee hearing is when lobbyists for special interest groups voice their opinions over the proposed legislation.  At the end of the hearing, the proposed bill will either be passed through to the full committee or the bill dies.

If the bill passes through the subcommittee, there will be a hearing with the full committee.  The committee debates the bill, amendments can be proposed, and ultimately the committee will vote to either send it to the full chamber or the bill dies.  Typically, the lobbyists are not allowed to be present or speak in the committee meetings.

If the bill passes through committee it goes to the chamber (House or Senate).  There the bill is debated.  Amendments can be proposed and are voted upon.  Amendments to the bill must be approved by a majority vote.  The bill will then be put up for a vote.  Lobbyists are not allowed in chamber during voting; however, prior to voting they attempt to influence legislators outside of chambers, which is a topic for another time.  Additionally, prior to voting is when legislators attempt to work out deals (if you vote for my bill, I’ll vote for yours, etc).  A constitutional majority must vote “yes” for the bill to proceed to the other chamber.

If the bill gets the required votes, it passes to the other chamber and the process starts over with subcommittee hearings, committee hearings, etc.  If the bill passes through the second chamber without amendment, it is sent to the Governor.  If the second chamber amends the bill, it must go back to the original chamber for approval to those amendments.  If the original chamber does not approve of the amendments a conference committee is appointed.

If the bill passes both chambers in identical form, it is sent to the Governor.  The Governor’s options are: 1) sign the bill into law, 2) veto the bill, 3) take no action.  The bill becomes law if the Governor either signs the bill or after three days during the session if the Governor takes no action.  If you would like a more comprehensive description of the process you can find that here

So now that you know how the sausage is made, what can you do as an ordinary citizen?  You can begin by reviewing proposed legislation.  You have access to review all proposed bills.  They can be found here:  Once you have reviewed the bills, if there is something that you feel strongly about you can do a couple of things.  You can contact a lobbyist to express your concerns or support.  There is a lobbyist database with their contact information.

You can contact your legislator to tell them what you think about that bill.  Don’t know who your legislator is?  You can find out who they are here:  You can find out what bills your legislator has proposed and what committees they are a part of.  There are also links to allow you to email your legislator directly.  You can also see how your legislator voted for proposed legislation by reviewing the journals of the chamber.  If your legislator doesn’t respond to your concerns or you don’t like how they vote on proposed legislation you have the power of your vote to make a change.

The attorneys at GRL make it their responsibility to be apprised of pending legislative acts and to make contact with legislators and lobbyists to educate them about the real life and legal implications that these proposals will have if enacted.