Three Readings of a Bill

Chris Micheli

The California Constitution requires a bill to be “read” three times before it can be debated and voted upon by either house. A “reading” of a bill in the Assembly or Senate is defined as being the presentation of the bill before the house by reading the bill’s number, author and title. Each time the bill is read, those three provisions are read aloud on the Floor by the Reading Clerk in either the Senate or Assembly.

There is a misconception that the three constitutionally-required readings of bills are the same. In fact, each is for a different purpose. First reading occurs upon introduction of the bill. Second reading occurs after a bill has been reported to the floor from committee (with or without amendments). Third reading occurs when the measure is about to be taken up on the floor of either house for final passage. Note that the three readings requirement can be suspended by a 2/3 vote in either house pursuant to the state constitution.

First Reading - The first reading of the bill takes place when it is actually introduced in either house. The bill is placed “across the desk (of the Assembly or Senate)” which is the official act of introducing a bill in the Legislature. In the Assembly, the Chief Clerk or his or her representative at the Assembly Desk receives the measure. In the Senate, the Secretary of the Senate or his or her representative takes the bill. The bill is given a bill number upon introduction. Once a bill passes over to the other house for consideration, it is simply read for the first time. Introduced bills are noted in the Assembly Daily File or the Senate Daily File, but there is no “first reading” portion of either Daily File. No floor analysis is prepared of the introduced bill.

Second Reading - The second reading of the bill takes place after the bill has been reported out of committee, either the policy or fiscal committee, to the Floor of either the Assembly or Senate. This process occurs whether the bill has been amended or not. Also, a bill can be on Second Reading several times, such as when the bill has been reported out of the policy committee and then again after being reported out of the fiscal committee. There is a Second Reading portion in both the Assembly and Senate Daily Files. This portion lists by file number (assigned to each bill once it has been listed in the File) each bill that has been reported out of committee to the floor. The general rule is that a bill remains on the Second Reading File for one day before moving to the Third Reading File. No floor analysis is prepared for the Second Reading file bills.

Third Reading - The third reading of the bill takes place when the bill is about to be taken up for consideration (i.e., presentation, debate and vote) on either the Assembly Floor or the Senate Floor for final passage. There is a Third Reading portion in both the Assembly and Senate Daily Files. This portion lists by file number each bill that is eligible to be taken up for a final vote on either Floor. A Third Reading Analysis is prepared for bills eligible for consideration on either the Assembly or Senate Floors. This analysis of the bill generally provides an explanation of existing law, what this bill does to existing law, any amendments, a listing of supporters and opponents, etc.

Chris Micheli serves as an Advisor to Abstract. He is and attorney and registered lobbyist with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He also is an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law in their Capital Lawyering Program.