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Preparing for Family Day in Annapolis: Understanding the Legislative Process

Beth Hess - Tuesday, December 05, 2017
With the Maryland legislative session opening on January 10, 2018, and MCF’s Family Day in Annapolis on February 22, now is the time to start preparing yourself to be a good advocate for young people with behavioral health challenges. During the three-month legislative session (ending on April 9 in 2018), thousands of bills will be introduced; some will pass, but many more will either “die” or be voted down. In order to stay informed about legislative matters, some basic knowledge is required.

Knowing the legislative process enables you to know how to best advocate for or against a bill. The life of a bill is as follows (click here for more detailed information):

Introduction and Committee Hearing
  • A bill is “introduced” by a legislator, called the bill sponsor.  Senators introduce bills to the Senate and delegates introduce bills to the House of Delegates. The bill receives a number and is assigned to the relevant committee. Bills are designated as follows: SB# for Senate bills and HB# for House bills. 
  • Bills may be: (1) introduced only in the Senate, (2) introduced only in the House, or (3) introduced in both the Senate and the House, or “cross-filed,” meaning it has a sponsor in each chamber
  • A committee hearing is held for every bill that has been introduced.  This is the point at which people can provide oral and/or written testimony.
  • If the bill passes out of its assigned committee, it typically goes to the full House or Senate for a vote.
  • Many bills are never brought up for a vote in committee, and therefore “die.”
    If a bill passes out of the full House or Senate, but has not been cross-filed, it will be assigned to a committee in
  • the opposite chamber.  Typically in these instances, only the sponsor may provide testimony on the bill.
  • Bills can be amended at any point in the process.
House and Senate Hearing
  • Bills that pass out of committee usually have a hearing in the full Senate or House and are voted on.
  • If a bill passes both in the full House and Senate, but the House and Senate versions of the bill do not have identical language, it will be assigned to a “conference committee.”
  • House and Senate members are assigned to serve on the conference committee, where they will work to establish agreed-upon language.
  • After a conference committee hearing, the agreed-upon language must be passed by the full Senate and House.
The Governor
  • If a bill is passed by both the full Senate and House, it will go to the governor for his signature or his veto, or he can take no action and the bill will become law.
  • If the Governor vetoes a bill, senators and delegates can take a vote to override the veto; three-fifths of the members of both chambers must vote in favor of overriding the veto to accomplish this.
Advocating For or Against a Bill
As a citizen, you have the most power when a bill is being heard in a committee on which your senator or delegate sits. So you must know who your senator and delegate(s) are. This is easy to find out. Go to the Maryland General Assembly web site and click on “Voice My Opinion,” then enter your address.  The names of both your federal and state elected officials will appear.  Under the line, click on the names of your state senator and state delegate(s), and you will see the committees on which they sit listed. The “Voice My Opinion” link also provides you with an easy way to contact your legislator(s) by email.

Finally, you need to be able to identify bills of interest to you. To weed through a great many bills, follow this process:
  • Go to the Maryland General Assembly web site.
  • Click on “Legislation by Session” – the current legislative year is the default session.
  • Click on “Legislation by Narrow Subject.”
  • Look under the topics of interest to you. Some suggestions are “Mental Health,” “Substance Abuse,” or “Children.”  Relevant bills and their status (committee assignment, hearing date, actions taken) are listed.
Alternatively, the Mental Health Association of Maryland maintains a regularly updated list of bills related to behavioral health, with relevant information. Click for current information.

If you are interested in testifying on a bill being heard in committee, either orally and/or in writing, and would like assistance, contact MCF’s Director of Public Policy Ann Geddes at

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