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Overview of New Jersey's Legislative Process

Overview of New Jersey's Legislative Process

The New Jersey legislative process is the journey proposed laws must go through to become official statutes that govern the state.

While it may be hard to navigate on your own, CLB Partners is here to provide a simplified overview of the legislative process, offering a behind-the-scenes look at how bills become law in the State of New Jersey.

New Jersey Legislature

The New Jersey Legislature consists of two chambers: the 80-member General Assembly and the 40-member Senate. The Legislature's primary function is to enact laws, a process which occurs in two-year increments known as Legislative Sessions. For example, the 221st New Jersey Legislature began on January 9, 2024, and will conclude in January 2026.

During this time, each Assemblymember and Senator files pieces of legislation they hope to advocate for and see passed by the legislature.

All business conducted during the first year may be continued in the second year. However, all unfinished business expires at the end of the second year and must start again in the new legislative session.

How a bill becomes law in New Jersey

There are many nuances that dictate the exact path a bill must travel before it can become law, but generally:

  1. A legislator decides to sponsor a bill, sometimes at the suggestion of a constituent, interest group, or personal interest in a policy area.
  2. At the legislator's direction, the Office of Legislative Services, a non-partisan agency of the Legislature, provides research and drafting assistance and prepares the bill in proper technical form.
  3. During a legislative session, the legislator files the bill with the Senate Secretary or Assembly Clerk.
  4. Once the bill is filed, the Senate President or Assembly Speaker will refer the bill to a relevant subject-matter committee for further review.
  5. The committee chair decides if and when the bill will be scheduled for consideration. If scheduled by the chair, committee members will discuss the bill in a public meeting, where they can amend, debate, and ultimately vote on the legislation. If the committee votes to approve the bill, it moves to the next step: the bill is referenced to another committee for consideration, or it can be ready to be heard by the full Assembly or Senate for a vote. If the chair does not schedule the bill for consideration, the bill remains in committee.
  6. It is then up to the Senate President or Assembly Speaker to decide if and when the bill will be posted for a full vote in their respective houses of the legislature.
  7. If the bill is considered on the floor and approved by a majority of the members (21 votes in the Senate, 41 in the Assembly) it is sent to the other chamber to begin a similar process.
  8. A bill receives final legislative approval only after passing the Senate and the Assembly in identical form.
  9. After final passage, the bill is sent to the Governor. The Governor may choose to sign it, conditionally veto it (return it to the Legislature for changes), or make an absolute veto (reject) it. If no action is taken after 45 days, the bill automatically becomes law.
  10. If the Governor vetoes the bill, it can still become law if the Legislature overrides the veto by a 2/3 vote (27 in the Senate, 54 in the Assembly). If the Governor makes a conditional veto, the Legislature can agree to it with a simple majority vote or take no action at all which means the bill does not become law.

Again, it's important to remember that this is a highly simplified overview of the legislative process in New Jersey. A bill can have many amendments and procedural motions that impact its steps.

The importance of standing committees

Legislative bodies deal with a large volume of bills covering diverse topics. Standing committees streamline the legislative process by dividing the workload. Each committee focuses on a specific policy area, allowing for a more efficient and comprehensive review of proposed legislation.

The Senate President and Assembly Speaker appoint legislators to serve on committees based on various factors, including the legislators’ expertise, interests, seniority, and the needs of the chamber.

Standing committees have the authority to propose amendments to bills, allowing for the refinement and improvement of legislation based on the expertise and feedback gathered during committee deliberations.

New Jersey Senate Committees

In the New Jersey Senate, a Senator may be appointed as chair, vice-chair, or member to one or more of the many committees, which include:

  • Budget and Appropriations
  • Commerce
  • Community and Urban Affairs
  • Education
  • Economic Growth
  • Environment and Energy
  • Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens
  • Higher Education
  • Judiciary
  • Labor
  • Legislative Oversight
  • Law and Public Safety
  • Military and Veterans’ Affairs
  • Rules and Order
  • State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation
  • Transportation

New Jersey Assembly Committees

In the New Jersey General Assembly, an Assemblymember may be appointed as chair, vice-chair, or member to one or more of the many committees, which include:

  • Appropriations
  • Budget
  • Commerce, Economic Development and Agriculture
  • Children, Families and Food Security
  • Consumer Affairs
  • Community Development and Women’s Affairs
  • Education
  • Environment, Natural Resources and Solid Waste
  • Financial Institutions and Insurance
  • Health
  • Higher Education
  • Housing
  • Aging and Human Services
  • Judiciary
  • Labor
  • Military and Veterans’ Affairs
  • Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations
  • Public Safety and Preparedness
  • Regulated Professions
  • State and Local Government
  • Science, Innovation and Technology
  • Tourism, Gaming and the Arts
  • Transportation and Independent Authorities
  • Telecommunications and Utilities

A complicated process

The New Jersey legislative process was purposefully designed to be challenging to ensure that any proposed laws undergo rigorous scrutiny, debate, and refinement.

Navigating the legislative landscape requires knowledge of the process, strategic planning, relationship-building, and effective communication – all of which CLB Partners is proud to offer our clients.

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