Michigan Law 101 – How A Bill Becomes A Law

Understanding how a bill works its way through the Michigan legislature and becomes a law can be complicated if you don’t know where to start.  The process can be broken down, however, so it’s at least easier to understand the 101 basics. By the time you’ve finished reading this post you will know the fundamentals of how an idea becomes a Michigan Bill, how that bill works its way through Michigan’s legislature, and how that bill becomes a law. This post will also show you some web-based tools that can help you easily track a bill’s lifecycle and how to find a bill’s actual written text. It’s important to read the sponsored legislation verbatim rather than relying solely on another person’s opinion or cliff notes about the bill. RMP has done a couple “101” posts for subjects including Michigan Petroleum Geology 101 and Michigan Petroleum Production 101 in past posts and now it’s time for a 101 course on Michigan law. By understanding the 101 basics, it will help us springboard into the fun part: reviewing actual bills that are actively working their way through our Michigan Legislature right now. In future posts, RMP will analyze specific bills and proposed legislation.

Aric Nesbitt Michigan Legislator
Aric Nesbitt was elected to the Michigan House in November of 2010. Nesbitt serves as the chair of the Committee on Energy Policy. RMP follows Michigan Energy Policy bills like Nesbitt’s HB 4297 very closely.

RMP is focused on freshwater conservation. Our goal is to be a leader amongst Michigan 501(c)3 non-profit organizations that volunteer efforts toward protecting Michigan’s freshwater natural resources and Michigan’s economy.  RMP believes that even though at the date of this publication it currently costs more money to buy a barrel of oil than a barrel of freshwater, freshwater itself has much more intrinsic value than oil. To protect Michigan’s freshwater natural resources, it’s important to understand how Michigan laws work. Michigan’s legislature is not some obscure organization. Decisions made in Michigan’s legislature impact every part of a Michigander’s daily life.   How old do you have to be before you get your driver’s license? What’s required information on a purchase agreement between two parties for goods or services? How old do you have to be before you can vote or drink a beer?   The Michigan Legislature defines all of these things and many more.   Some of the recent bad behavior exhibited in the Michigan Legislature has undermined its credibility with the public trust.   The Michigan Legislature belongs to we the people and it’s important to understand the basics of how it works. The Michigan Legislature should work for taxpayers like us; that’s what it’s supposed to.

The first bill RMP wants to talk about is HB 4297. But, before talking about that bill in a future post coming soon, this primer 101 post can serve as a reference point explaining the basics of any bill’s life cycle as well as some important tools you can use to track any bill or find out who your representative is.  In fact, you can use RMP’s exclusive software discussed here to quickly & easily find your State or Federal Legislator anywhere in America just by clicking on a Google Map.   After reading the paragraphs that follow, you will have a good basis for taking a deep dive into any piece of Michigan legislation quickly and efficiently regardless of whether your interested in energy, food safety, transportation, education, health care, et Al.

How the Michigan Legislature Is Set Up

The Michigan Legislature, like the U.S. Congress at the federal level of government, is bicameral. The Michigan Legislature is made up of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives.   U.S. Government is a mandatory course in Michigan for high school seniors and if you paid attention in that class, you have a leg up on understanding Michigan’s legislature because it’s very similar to our federal one. If you flunked out, don’t worry, RMP has you covered with this quick & easy to read post.

michigan capitol dome
The famous interior dome picture of the Michigan Capitol Building from the Wikimedia commons archive.

In the Michigan Legislature there are 38 Senators and 110 Representatives, and each group assembles in its own chamber in the State Capitol to pass the laws of this state. In contrast, at the national level, in the U.S. Senate there are two Senators from each state. Each state has at least one U.S. Representative, with the total number being 435; Michigan has 14 members in the U.S. House. One of the 14 Michigan members in the US House of Representatives, Debbie Dingell, has shown exceptional intelligence by following our organization on Twitter @respectmyplanet. You too can follow respectmyplanet.org on Twitter by clicking here or liking respectmyplanet.org on facebook by clicking here.

Both the Michigan Senate and the House of Representatives are responsible for the organization of their respective chambers. At the beginning of each session, party members have a meeting, or caucus, to deal with the election of officers and party officials.

How an Idea Becomes a Bill in Michigan:

The legislator works with the public to conceive ideas for new legislation. The legislator will work with many different groups and special interests to carry out the process to create new legislation to address public needs. Groups such as labor, business, the legal & medical professions, teachers, farmers, and veterans have long been

supreme court citizens united
The United States Supreme Court Building was the site of protests after the 5-4 decision along party lines for Citizens United. Abraham Lincoln famously said in his 1860 Presidential Campaign speech “The people — the people — are the rightful masters of both Congresses, and courts — not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it —”

recognized as special interests due to well-established organizations. In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in the development of new professional multi-client lobbying organizations that work to influence legislation with deep pocket financial resources. Many large corporate lobby groups represent different industrial interests; some of the biggest are the pharmaceuticals industry, the energy industry (i.e. oil, coal, nuclear, alternative), the insurance industry, and the banking industry.

Corporate lobby groups have achieved a landmark victory in how they can finance themselves under the guise of free speech through something called a SuperPac because of the Citizens United vs Federal Elections Commission decision in the United States Supreme Court. Any domestic corporation, foreign corporation, or foreign government can now spend an unlimited amount of funds to influence US elections because of Citizens United vs FEC. Justice Stevens cautioned Americans when he wrote in his dissenting opinion:

Citizens United vs FEC threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution. A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.

How a Michigan Bill Becomes a Law:

Bills may be introduced in either house of the Michigan Legislature. Senate bills are filed with the Secretary of the Senate and House bills are filed with the Office of the Clerk of the House. Upon introduction, bills are assigned a number. At the beginning of each biennial session, House bills are numbered consecutively starting with House Bill Number 4001 and Senate bills are numbered starting with Senate Bill Number 1. In both houses, joint resolutions are assigned a letter.

Once introduced, a bill is then referred to committee. In the House, the Speaker of the House refers the bill to committee and in the Senate the bill is assigned to committee by the Majority Leader. In committee review, the bill is debated and discussed. In both houses, a majority vote of members in the committee is required for the bill to be reported.

If a bill is reported from committee favorably with or without amendment or in the form of a substitute bill, the committee report is printed in the journal under the order of business entitled “Reports of Standing Committees” in the House, and in the Senate under “Committee Reports.” Journals are the official records of the actions of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Those records are published online here following each day’s session. Upon being reported favorably from committee, the bill and recommended committee amendment (if any) are placed on the order of “General Orders” in the Senate. In the House, the bill and amendments are referred to the order of “Second Reading.”

At the conclusion of Third Reading, the bill is either passed or defeated by a roll call vote of the majority of the members elected and serving (pursuant to the State Constitution, approval of certain measures requires a two-thirds or three-quarters vote) or one of the following four options is exercised to delay final action on the bill:

  • The bill is returned to committee for further consideration;
  • Consideration of the bill is postponed indefinitely;
  • Consideration is postponed until a certain date; or
  • The bill is tabled.

Following either passage or defeat of a bill, a legislator may move for reconsideration of the vote by which the bill was passed or defeated. (A motion to reconsider can be made for any question.) In the Senate, the motion for reconsideration must be made within the following two session days; in the House, the motion must be made by the next succeeding session day.

If a bill passes, it is sent to the other house of the Legislature where the bill follows the same procedures described above, resulting in defeat or passage. If a bill is passed by both houses in identical form, the bill is ordered enrolled by the house in which the bill originated.

Following enrollment and printing, the bill is sent to the Governor.  Upon receipt of an enrolled bill, the Governor has 14 days to consider the bill. The Governor may:

  • Sign the bill, which then either becomes law at the expiration of 90 days after the Legislature adjourns sine die (without day) or on a date beyond the ninetieth day specified in the bill. If the bill has been given immediate effect by a two-thirds vote of the members elected to and serving in each house, the bill will become law after the Governor signs the bill and files it with the Secretary of State or on a day specified in the bill.
  • Veto the bill and return it to the house of origin with a message stating the Governor’s objections.
  • Choose not to sign or veto the bill. If the bill is neither signed nor vetoed, the bill becomes law 14 days after having reached the Governor’s desk if the Legislature is in session or in recess. If the Legislature should adjourn sine die before the end of the 14 days, the unsigned bill does not become law. If the Legislature has adjourned by the time the bill reaches the Governor, he or she has 14 days to consider the bill. If the Governor fails to approve the bill, it does not become law.

Diving In & Tracking A Bill

RMP suggests you use web-based tools like www.legislature.mi.gov to follow legislative bills to stay on top of what’s important for protecting Michigan’s fresh water natural resources. In order to understand the details of a bill, there is really one thing you simply must do: read it.

Yep, that’s the trick that is so easy. Just read the bill. Let me say that one more time for emphasis: read the legislation before you read someone’s opinion on it. It’s really not that hard to read the bills and it does you no good to shy away from reading the actual text of the bill.   Don’t get discouraged at first if you find reading legislation cumbersome or difficult. The more bills and laws you read, the more you get comfortable reading them and the intimidation fades quickly. But where is the bill? How do you find the bill you want to read?  Here are a couple of tools you can use to help you read & track a bill through the Michigan Legislature:

The best tool on the Internet for tracking and analyzing Michigan bills active in our legislature and Michigan compiled laws is:


As you can see in on the homepage of www.legislature.mi.gov (see Fig.1 below), many options are available for finding information about our Michigan Legislature. It is a very well organized website with intuitive searches. You can click on “bills” for instance and search by committee, category, sponsor, bill history, and more. You can search appropriation bills, which are bills that give authorization to spend state and federal funds. Appropriating money is done by passing bills which authorize government to spend money for specified purposes. These become Public Acts, because of the volume of annual bills, they they are not compiled into the Michigan Compiled Laws.

You can check out calendars and committees and joint resolutions and more. The best way however, to quickly get to the bill you’re interested in is to pay attention to the news. When you’re reading an article or hear the newscasters on Local 4 talking about a specific bill, take note and write down the number.   The first bill that RMP will be diving into, for instance, is HB 4297 of 2015.   HB 4297 is sponsored by Aric Nesbitt and it regards clean energy, which wouldn’t you know it, is something RMP writes about in just about every post published on this website. The heart of HB 4297 deals with a lot of math regarding something called “Advanced Cleaner Energy Credits” which basically mean 1 megawatt hour generated by an Advanced Cleaner Energy System.  For this post, however, the important thing is to just take note of the bill’s number so you can look it up. If you find any bill that interests you, take a moment to write down the number and you can find it quicker when you’re searching. By entering the bill number into the search box, you go straight to what you want.

Fig. 1 - Home Page of www.legislature.mi.gov. From here you can quickly and easily find anything in Michigan's legislative process or history. Click image to enlarge.
Fig. 1 – Home Page of www.legislature.mi.gov. From here you can quickly and easily find anything in Michigan’s legislative process or history. Click image to enlarge.

Once you’ve found the bill you’re looking for, you’ll go to that bill’s homepage. Think of this like a facebook page for the bill (see Fig. 2 below). The page is set up to facilitate making all the basic information about the bill simple. It’s organized in the same chronological flow as described in this post. Notice that this particular bill, HB 4297, is only at the “House Introduced Bill” status as of this publication date because only the HTML and PDF icons are lit up for the first stage of the bill’s lifecycle.   The icons further into the bill’s lifecycle are dark because this bill is not that far along just yet.   If you look toward the bottom of the page you can see a detailed history of the bill by specific date and the bill’s financial analysis. One of the main points of the exercise of this post is to teach you to click on that little HTML or PDF icon so you can actually read the bill yourself. Again, only by actually reading the bill can you know what’s in it.

Michigan Legislature Legislative Process
Fig. 2 – Legislative bill at the “House Introduced Bill” status. Notice how the first HTML & PDF icons are lit up but the one’s below it are dark. As the bill progresses toward becoming a law and gains status, the icons light up. The status progressions follow the chronology outlined in this basic 101 post.  The www.legislature.mi.gov website makes following a Michigan bill easy.  Think of the page in this image like a facebook page for HB 4297 of 2015.  Click image to enlarge.

The screenshot below (see Fig. 3) shows bill HB 5255 of 2014 signed into law by Governor Snyder on April 1, 2014. Notice on this bill, which gives eminent domain rights to carbon dioxide (CO2) pipelines along with crude oil pipelines, that all the icons are lit up. You can see that this bill’s facebook style page is more mature with more information and has made it all the way into law.   CO2 sequestration, clean energy production, Advanced Cleaner Energy Credits, and HB 5255 all go hand in hand. These are the types of bills and laws that RMP analyzes. In future posts, RMP will endeavor to analyze these bills and more to find they’re meaning.   What bills interest you? Write them down and use these tools so you can analyze what’s important to you. Empower yourself.

Michigan Legislature Legislative Process
Fig. 3 – A Michigan bill that has been signed into law by the Governor of Michigan. In this bill, that gives eminent domain rights to CO2 pipelines along with crude oil pipelines, notice all the icons are lit up. Notice that the icons near the “Public Act” status are lit up. Also notice at near the bottom of the page in the history section that it shows the bill was signed into law on 4/1/2014 by Governor Snyder. Click image to enlarge.

Another important part of playing an active role in the legislative process is to know your representatives and how to contact them.  RMP has developed a tool to help you do just that.  In this post RMP demonstrates a powerful tool to easily find your state and federal representatives and all their contact information.  The tool works across the nation and if you know how to use a Google Map, you can find state and federal representatives and their contact information very quickly and easily.   This is RMP’s short 2.5 minute video that shows you everything you need to know to use RMP’s exclusive and powerful free software to locate state & federal representatives across America.  There is no Internet tool faster or easier to use than RMP’s Michigan made software.  Use RMP’s exclusive software to find & contact your representatives to let them know what bills are important to you.  RMP is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization and our exclusive Michigan made software will always be free to use for the general public.

Final Thoughts on Michigan’s Legislative Process

Those are the basics. That’s how an idea becomes a bill, and a bill becomes law in Michigan. If the legislative process seems cumbersome, it was actually designed that way.   The idea is that is not easy to create and pass laws in order to keep the ills of despotism out of our Republic. The Separation of Power within government is an important principle that dates back to ancient Greece and ancient Rome. The great philosopher Charles Montesquieu had a hand in why we have three separate branches of government for some very specific and comprehensive reasons. Our U.S. Constitution and our three-branch system is patterned after Montesquieu’s famous treatise the Spirit of the Laws. Montesquieu studied despotic political systems, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, and all forms of government , religion, and society in between before writing Spirit of the Laws. Montesquieu was considered the father of sociology and our founding fathers admired his work so much they patterned our U.S. Constitution after his famous book.

Charles Montesquieu is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, which is implemented in many constitutions throughout the world including the U.S. Constitution. He did more than any other author to secure the place of the word despotism in the political lexicon.
Charles Montesquieu is famous for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers, which is implemented in many constitutions throughout the world including the U.S. Constitution. He did more than any other author to secure the place of the word despotism in the political lexicon.

Having lived his entire life under the cruel rule of King Louis the XIV, Montesquieu developed a disdain for despotism and designed the three-branch system of government with the hope that a Republic could endure the constant and imminent threats of despotic thinkers from obtaining too much power and forming monopolies that have historically crushed the voice of reason in favor of personal avarice.

When examining Michigan legislation you should look for the spirit of each law.   Each bill or law has a spirit or purpose.   There lives within each piece of legislation a determination to do something. Some bills get tricky and try to hide their spirit in order to sneak through the gauntlet of the processes described in this post. If you focus on reading the bill rather than other people’s opinions about it, you will have a better understanding of whether you should support it or oppose it. More realistically, there will be parts of a bill you support and other language you do not.  Michigan’s legislative process is designed such that all inputs should be considered to craft legislation that best eliminates monopolies from our economic system and monopolies of power.

RMP will examine different bills to see what they’re attempting to do. Is the bill helping Michigan’s environment and economy? Or, is the bill going to have negative consequences for Michigan’s environment and economy? If RMP determines a bill will have negative consequences, the reasons will be examined using data and supporting documents. RMP will attempt to develop good questions about bills that deserve good answers. You can follow RMP’s posts that talk about legislation by looking for the post tag: LEGISLATIVE PROCESS.   Click on the LEGISLATIVE PROCESS tag in the tag cloud on the left hand side of your screen and you can see all of RMP’s posts that mention or examine Michigan Legislative Bills or Michigan Compiled Laws. Or, subscribe to RMP’s blog by entering your email address into the green-yellow input box on the left on side of your screen. That way you can follow all of our posts. Please follow @respectmyplanet on Twitter and like our facebook page.

RMP will be advocating for and focusing on legislation that encourages fuel cell development, fuel cell manufacturing, sustainable energy production, toxic waste management, economics, and water conservation. Follow RMP and learn why all of those topics are related. All of those related topics can be advanced greatly by advocating for legislation that encourages the development and manufacture of Fuel Cells in the Michigan Basin.

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