A vast array of documents generated within the last several years as part of the legislative process are available online. Of course, hard copy versions remain the official sources, yet the digital offerings make locating the official versions much easier.
Florida’s comparatively short legislative session of 60 days coupled with the single subject limitation on bills make researching the creation of a Florida law somewhat easier to follow than the creation of a federal one. Additionally, committees are virtually a guaranteed part of the State process, as are staff analyses (at least in recent years), which means an additional layer of documentation is available. Many of the most recent documents are available online, including bill and amendment tests, staff analyses, and committee reports. Additional information on locating recent bills is included under the heading "Process" below.
Alternatively, especially for bills passed before 1998, these documents can be acquired from the Department of State Archives located in Tallahassee. Contact information for the Archives can be found at:
Laws of Florida: http://laws.flrules.org/
The session laws are a compilation of the general and special laws enacted by the Legislature. The text of the law in its final bill form is presented verbatim, with underlined language showing additions to statutes and stricken language showing portions of statutes that were removed. Each is assigned a “Chapter Law Number” by the Secretary of State which does not correspond to either the final statute number or the original bill number. Chapter law numbers can be found at the end of each statutory section where the history of amendments is listed. Additionally, if just the bill number is known, the corresponding chapter law number can be found among the information listed about the bill on the House and Senate websites.
The volumes of Florida Statutes are the official print version to which all citations in legal documents should be made. Though not the official versions, Florida Statutes Annotated and Florida Annotated Statutes do offer research aids referring to the history of the statute, cases interpreting the statute, and relevant secondary sources.
Free access to the digital versions of the statutes going back to 1997 is available at Online Sunshine (http://www.leg.state.fl.us/). Online Sunshine hosts a keyword search engine, though Westlaw and Lexis’ search capabilities are superior.
The process of enacting a law begins with filing a bill in either the Senate or House. Because the same bill has to be passed by both chambers and the legislative session is so short, sponsors will seek a sponsor for the “companion” bill in the other chamber in the hopes that both the Senate and House versions will progress through the process with similar timing.
Committees are an integral part of the process. Upon filing, a bill will be referred to committees according to the subject matter. Committees begin meeting a few months before Session for “Interim Committee Weeks”, and meetings will continue through the first several weeks of session. Committee Chairs have the discretion to decide which bills to agenda for discussion. Prior to the bill being discussed in committee, committee staff will draft and publish an analysis of the bill. Members of the public are allowed to testify on bills before the committee. Senators and Representatives on each committee will have the opportunity to amend bills in committee, to ask questions of those testifying, to debate the bill, and then will vote on whether or not to report the bill favorably out of committee. Bills will move sequentially through committee, and those that make it through all of their stops are placed on the “Second Reading Calendar” and are available for discussion on the floor of the respective chambers. Bills that are not reported favorably will die in committee. Some bills simply aren’t placed on agendas, and such bills often die in committee unless the rules are waived.
Bills on the Second Reading Calendar exist as a sort of pool from which the Speaker of the House or President of the Senate may draw to set a Special Order Calendar. After each bill is taken up for Second Reading on the Special Order Calendar, it will then be “rolled over to Third Reading”. When a bill is taken up for Third Reading, a vote for final passage is taken.
If the House has passed a bill on the floor and the Senate has not, the House will send the bill to the Senate in “messages”. The Senate will then “lay” its companion “on the table”, and substitute and take up the House version. The Senate will then discuss, potentially amend, and vote whether to pass the House version. If the Senate amends the bill, it will have to be sent back to the House for the House to vote on it again. If it has not been amended on the floor and passes, it will be “ordered enrolled” and will go to the Governor for signing. Often in the last few days of Session, bills will be amended on the floor and will bounce back and forth in messages. Some bills in messages won’t be taken up and eventually die at sine die.
Products of the Process
Bills are numbered in the order in which they are filed, with odd numbers being assigned to House bills and even numbers for Senate bills. Bill texts are most easily accessed through the respective chamber websites. When looking for individual bills, it’s critical to know in which year the bill was filed, as the numbering system starts over each year. Each chamber makes bill documents available going back to 1998, though the Senate site was overhauled in 2011. Access to documents generated before 2011 is still possible through the Senate, but will require visiting their archived site at http://archive.flsenate.gov.
Not every bill filed is your run-of-the-mill General Bill. A little bit of vocabulary can help clarify the process.
Both the Senate and House offer tools for tracking the progression of bills through the process. One tactic is to visit the webpages and look up the information for an individual bill. Another choice is to sign up for either the House or Senate bill tracking accounts, which will allow users to sign up for notification emails detailing the status of bills of interest.
Amendments may be added either in committee or on the floor. The text and status of amendments can be found on the individual pages for the respective bills. When a bill has been amended in committee, the text of the amendments are incorporated into the bill text and a new version of the bill is generated, known as a Committee Substitute (not to be confused with a Proposed Committee Substitute). The initials “CS” will also be added before the “HB” or “SB” of the bill number. A bill with multiple “CS’s” has undergone a lot of work while traveling through committees.
Individual bill analyses can be found on the respective bill pages. Analyses are only published if a bill is heard by a committee. Analyses will be modified at each committee stop as the bill is amended. Even if the bill has not been amended, subsequent committees may add information particularly relevant to their subject areas. In recent years, committee staff has also drafted final bill analyses that pass on the floor.
Final bill analyses written by House staff are available on the individual pages for each bill. Senate final bill summaries are available with other Senate Committee Publications at: http://flsenate.gov/Committees/Publications
Committee meeting records
In addition to Staff Analyses, substantive committee staff produce additional documents. These documents are available on the individual Committee pages on the House and Senate websites.
Calendars and Journals
Both offer insight into what activities occurred and what bills were discussed in each chamber. Calendars are most useful while the Legislature is actually meeting for interim committee weeks or during Session, while Journals are more valuable for historical research afterwards. Calendars provide official notice of which Committees are meeting and the bills on each agenda. Calendars will also list the bills that are on Second Reading, Special Order, and Third Reading. Journals are the official documents of the proceedings on the floor and are only published during Session. Both of these can be found on the chamber websites. Hard copies of the calendars are available on the same day at the Print Centers within the Capitol building. Hard copies of the Journals are available at law libraries in the State.
Citator & Subject Index: http://billinfo.leg.state.fl.us/home.aspx
These may be helpful for finding bills addressing a particular statute or discussing a specific subject in a given session. The Statute/Constitution Citations (“Citator”) lists statutory sections that bills proposed to amend and the corresponding bill numbers. The subject index provides subject categories and bill numbers that fell under those categories.
Governor’s Bill Signing Statements: http://www.flgov.com/bill-action/
The Governor will occasionally draft letters explaining why he has vetoed a bill. With the change in each administration, the location of these statements may change. A link to Governor Scott’s action on bills and any signing statements is provided above.
Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability [OPPAGA]: http://www.oppaga.state.fl.us/
Office of the Florida Legislature that produces reports on a variety of policy topics. This is a good place to look for detailed information on specific state issues and agency projects. General summaries of the main missions and activities of Florida administrative agencies can also be found at the site.
Florida Economic & Demographics Research [EDR]: http://edr.state.fl.us/
Office of the Florida Legislature that conducts and publishes research on Florida economic issues. A variety of data on state demographics, revenues, and financial predictions can be found at the site.