How does a bill become law in Maine?

Friday, January 6, 2023
Jen Lancaster

A bill can have a long journey in the Maine Legislature. Not all of them are slam dunks. They have to be reviewed in committees and voted on in both chambers before they make it to the Governor's desk. Here's how it works:

  1. Submit a bill: It's the beginning of a new session, which means legislators are thinking hard about the bills they want to work on. Anyone can suggest a bill, but usually it's a legislator who officially submits the legislation. That's how the League does it. We suggest a bill, and a legislator works with us to draft, write, and submit the bill on our behalf. 

  2. Bill Referral: After the bill language has been finalized and submitted, the Senate Secretary and House Clerk refer the bills to the appropriate committee. There are 24 committees, and they cover important topics like energy, environment, housing, labor, and so on. Most of our bills, if not all of them, appear before the State and Local Government (SLG) and Veterans and Legal Affairs (VLA) committees. 

  3. Public Hearing: Committees receive the bills, then set up dates for public hearings. This is the time for everyone to offer their opinion on the legislation through testimony. It's an important step in the process. Anyone can testify as: supporting, against, or neither for nor against. The League testifies on hundreds of bills given any year. We also help our volunteers submit testimony. If there's an excellent bill, maybe one we wrote, we want as many citizens as possible voicing their support. 

  4. Committees Make a Decision: After the public hearing, the committees hold work sessions. Usually the public is able to attend. Committee members discuss the legislation and decide if they want to advance it to the chambers or kill it on the spot. In our world, we're always excited when a bill makes it out of committee. 

  5. House Reads the Bill: Hurray! The bill made it to the first chamber, the Maine House. Legislators read over the bill a few times before taking a vote. The bill could be passed along to the Senate or die. RIP.

  6. On to the Senate: We're getting close. If the Senate agrees with the House, then it's close to a done deal. The Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate sign off on the enacted bill. What if the House and Senate disagree on the bill? Well, that's not get into that for now. 

  7. Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: If the bill makes it out of both chambers, it goes to the Governor's desk. The Governor can sign off on it, veto it, or not sign at all (which means the bill becomes law anyways after 10 days.) 

The bill is now officially enacted into law. What happens next? 

All bills and resolves (legislation concerning a temporary matter) become effective 90 days after the adjournment of the Legislature, unless another date is specified. But nothing is instantaneous. Let's use the example of Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), which now allows Mainers to register to vote when they visit a BMV. The AVR bill was passed into law in 2019, but it takes time, planning, and funding to get the ball rolling. We want things to run smoothly, right? That's why we didn't see AVR become officially official until the summer of 2022. So like we said — nothing is instantaneous.