Last year, Senator John Laird introduced SB 272 to better protect the Bay Area from projected flooding due to sea level rise. After a year of lobbying, amendments, and committee hearings, the bill was signed by Governor Newsom in October 2023. With SB 272 in place, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) is now permitted to set sea level rise standards that will be requirements for cities in the region in the near future.1 Save The Bay’s policy team advocated for the passage of SB 272 throughout the legislative process, to ensure the acceleration of nature-based climate adaptation in the Bay.
So, how did this bill go from an idea to a fully-fledged, region-wide law enforcing climate solutions?
Without a general understanding of California state legislation, it can be hard to follow the process bills go through before being written into the state law. If you, like many California residents, want to follow along with policy issues you care about, here’s a comprehensive account of how a bill gets passed and becomes a law in California.
The general steps are as follows: the bill is first introduced by a member of either the Senate or the Assembly. It travels through the first house, then the second house, and finally the Governor’s desk. In both houses, the processes are more or less the same: the bill must go through one or more committees, and it is read “on the floor” (for all the members of the house) three times at different stages of approval. Standing committees are regularly held and made available to the public to express their opinions on possible legislation. The bill is assigned to a policy committee that focuses on matters pertaining to its specific contents, and then the appropriations committee when there is a fiscal element.3 There are 40 Senators and 80 Assembly Members in California.4 The bill must be passed by the Senate and Assembly either with a simple majority (more than half the total) or a two-thirds majority, depending on the specifics of the bill, before landing on the desk of the Governor for his signature or veto.5
Step 1: The Idea
The idea for a bill can come from anyone. In some instances, an organization like Save The Bay in collaboration with community members or other advocacy groups will bring forth an idea to a Senator or Assembly Member based on determined needs, who will then author the bill. The Member then sends the idea to the Legislative Counsel’s Office to be drafted into a bill.5 The author of SB 272 is Senator Laird.2 During this stage, Save The Bay worked with Senator Laird’s staff to offer feedback on the bill’s drafts. The bill receives its number and the title of either SB (Senate Bill) or AB (Assembly Bill). SB 272 was introduced by a Senator, so it went first to the Senate for approval.
Step 2: The First House
The next step of the bill is to travel to the Senate Desk or Assembly Desk, depending on whether the elected representative is a state senator or assembly member. This is where the bill is printed, and the first reading takes place. After the bill has been in print for 30 days, it is taken to the Rules Committee to be assigned its first policy committee for a hearing.6 SB 272 was referred to the Natural Resources Committee, before it was re-referred to the Appropriations Committee due to the costs associated with the bill. At committee hearings, lobbyists, community members, and the bill author can provide a testimony to the bill. With SB 272, Save The Bay’s policy team submitted letters of support from ourselves and other members of the community, including local officials who agreed that the bill would benefit their region. Once the committees have finished their consideration and pass a measure with or without amendments, it is taken to the Senate or Assembly Floor for the second reading, where a floor debate is scheduled.6 At the floor debate, a third reading takes place, where members debate the bill and vote. Depending on the bill, it will either need a simple majority or a two-thirds majority to pass (SB 272 required a simple majority) to the second house.2
Step 3: The Second House
Once a bill is passed in the first house, it moves on to the second house to undergo the same process. The bill has its first reading, where it is assigned to a standing policy committee by the Rules Committee.6 Save The Bay continued to advocate for SB 272 during this stage. The committee can pass the bill without amendments, pass it with amendments, or forward it to another committee for consideration. After the bill passes through every committee it is assigned, it is sent to the floor for the Second Reading and a floor debate is scheduled.6 At the Floor Debate, the Third Reading of the bill takes place.6 Legislators again debate the bill and vote. If the bill passes with no amendments from the Second House, it goes straight to the Governor’s Desk.6 If it is passed with amendments, it is sent back to the original house for debate in a process called “concurrence”. During this period, the author resolves final obstacles to gaining support for the bill. This includes incorporating any amendments suggested by the Governor to increase the likelihood that they sign the bill if it passes through to their desk. If the Senate and the Assembly disagree on the bill’s amendments, the first house can either accept the second houses’ amendments or choose to commence a Conference Committee consisting of members from both houses, where a compromise will be voted on and passed by both.6
Step 4: The Governor’s Desk
Once the amendments of the bill are passed by both the Senate and the Assembly, the bill travels to the Governor’s desk. The Governor has twelve days to either sign it, veto it, or let it become law without their signature.5 If the Governor vetoes the bill, there’s still hope: their decision can be overridden if two-thirds majority of both houses vote in favor.6 When SB 272 reached this stage, Save The Bay contacted senior administration officials to let them know of our support of the bill. Thankfully, Governor Newsom signed SB 272, successfully enacting the bill into law.
SB 272 being signed into law this year was a huge step in adapting to the impact of climate change in the Bay Area. Thanks to Governor Newsom, Senator Laird, and the support of community members, organizations, and local elected officials, our dream of climate resiliency in the region is becoming a reality. Our policy team stayed in contact with Senator Laird every step of the way, offering our perspective on amendments and commenting on the updated bill. Save The Bay’s engagement throughout the process and our long term cultivated relationships with lawmakers and community members allowed us to be strong advocates for important legislation.
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SB 272 being passed is a testament of our successful legacy of advocacy in the Bay Area. Help us continue to support the San Francisco Bay.