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Georgetown Law Library

New York Research In-Depth

This guide explains the process of making laws and regulations in the state of New York.

1. LEGISLATIVE PROCESS

The legislative power of the state is vested in the Senate and Assembly, according to Article III, § 1 of the New York State Constitution. The rest of Article III specifies the size of the Senate and the Assembly, the election of legislators, and the general legislative process. Specific procedural rules are to be determined by the Senate and the Assembly, according to Article III, §9. Such rules are adopted by Senate and Assembly resolution at the beginning of each two-year legislative term.

The legislative term consists of two legislative sessions. The legislative sessions are usually referenced by number, e.g., 228th Session (2005). Article IV, § 7 requires that every bill that passes both the Senate and the Assembly be approved and signed by the Governor before it becomes a law. Under Article IV, § 3 the Governor also has the power to convene the legislature, or the Senate only, on extraordinary occasions.

Bill Drafting

Many government agencies and advisory committees, such as the Law Revision Commission, the Legislative Bill Drafting Commission (LBDC), the Advisory Committee on Civil Practice, and the Advisory Committee on Criminal Law and Procedure are involved in assisting legislators with bill drafting. Several of the bar associations also play a role in shaping legislation.

Introduction of Bills

Bills may be introduced in either house (called "one-house bills"), or introduced jointly by a sponsor from each house (called "uni-bills"). Uni-bills are usually given serious consideration. The executive budget is also submitted in bill form by the governor according to Article VII of the New York Constitution. Each bill's sponsor is required by the rules of each house to file an "introducer's memorandum" (also known as "sponsor's memorandum" or "legislative memorandum"), which sets forth the intent of the proposed legislation.

Before being introduced, a bill is deposited with the Revision Clerk in each house who works closely with the Legislative Bill Drafting Commission (LBDC) in proofreading the bill and assigning it a bill number and an official date of introduction. The text of the bill is usually available within twenty-four hours of introduction on the New York State Legislature website.

Different types of bills:

  • Bills that are introduced in the first session of a legislature, but do not pass during the first session, are automatically reintroduced in the second session as the same bill with the same bill number. They are called "carryover bills." Bills which do not pass during a legislative term die, and do not carry over to the next legislature.
  • Legislation desired by the executive branch is introduced by a legislator or by a standing committee, such as the Rules Committee, as "departmental bills." These bills usually carry the name of the department after the name of the sponsor(s) in the bill caption. The purpose of a departmental bill usually appears in the governor's annual message to the legislature.
  • "Governor's bills," or "program bills," or "governor's program bills" are bills drafted and introduced to implement the legislative program set forth in the governor's annual message, also known as the State of the State message. The annual message is available on the Governor's website [search by "[year] State of the State"].
  • "Private bills," as opposed to "public bills" which have general application, are introduced for the benefit of an individual or a small group of individuals.
  • A "special bill" is "[a] law which in terms and in effect applies to one or more, but not all, counties, counties other than those wholly included within a city, cities, towns or villages," see Article IX, § 3(d)(4) of the Constitution.
  • All budget and appropriation bills are referred to the Senate Committee on Finance and the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means. Once they are passed by both houses, they become law. They do not have to go back to the governor for approval because they were originally submitted by the governor.
  • Most resolutions, except concurrent and joint resolutions, do not require approval by both houses and by the governor. Single house resolutions require only approval in one house. Proposed amendments to the New York Constitution, proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and ratification by the New York legislature of a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution take the form of concurrent resolutions. They are assigned bill numbers and the text is available like other bills. Other resolutions can be obtained through the resolutions' sponsors. Their summaries can be found in the Senate and Assembly journals.

Committee Action

After a bill has been proofread, assigned a bill number and introduced, it is referred to the appropriate standing committee of the house where it is introduced for study. The committee will usually hold public hearings on bills to gather different opinions. After consideration, the committee may amend the bill, report it to the full house, or reject it. Unlike the U.S. Congress' standing committees, New York State legislative standing committees do not issue written reports when a bill advances out of committee.

Names of the members of Assembly committees are available at the Assembly website: Committees, Commissions and Task Forces. Names of members of Senate committees are available at the New York State Legislature website: Senate Committees.

Consideration by the Full House

Each bill has to be in printed form on the members' desks for three legislative days before it can be voted on, unless the Governor sends a "Message of Necessity" and both houses accept it. A bill must pass in both houses before it is sent to the governor for consideration. A bill can be amended either in committee or during this time by the full house. When a bill is amended, a letter of the alphabet will be added to the bill number to show the number of amendments the bill has gone through. For example, Senate bill S205 becomes S205-A after one amendment, and S205-B after the second amendment. The Senate can amend a bill sent from the Assembly after its passage in the Assembly. When that happens, the bill will be given a new bill number by the Assembly and has to be sent to the Senate after its passage in the Assembly. The same text has to pass both houses (the New York Legislature does not employ the Congressional conference system to negotiate and resolve bill differences). Sometimes both houses pass similar bills, but cannot reconcile the differences between them within a reasonable period of time. When this happens, the Senate Majority Leader and Assembly Speaker will each appoint five members to serve on a conference committee to negotiate and iron out the differences. Generally, a majority of the elected membership of each house is required to pass a bill. Bills that would appropriate funds for local or private purposes and some special bills require a two-thirds vote. Consideration of tax and appropriations bills requires a quorum of at least three-fifths of the elected membership.

After a bill passes both houses, the presiding officer of each house will certify the passage. The house of origin will engross the bill by affixing certifications of passage from each house and enclosing the bill in a folder known as a "bill jacket," which includes opinions from interested parties that are collected by the Governor's Counsel's office, and the governor's approval memoranda (or if the bill is vetoed, a veto memorandum).

Action by the Governor

The house of origin transmits the engrossed bill to the governor's office. The governor has ten days to act on a bill that is passed by the legislature before the last ten days of its session. These are called "ten-day" bills. The governor has thirty days to act on bills passed by the legislature during the last ten days of its session. These are called "thirty-day" bills. He may consult opinions from interested parties collected by the Governor's Counsel's office before deciding whether to sign the bill, veto it, or take no action. The governor may issue a message outlining his rationale and place it in the bill jacket (the governor is required to explain why he vetoed a bill in a veto memorandum unless the bill is "pocket vetoed"). A vetoed bill can still become law if two-thirds of the members of each house vote to override the Governor's veto. "Ten-day" bills automatically become law if the governor does not take any action during the ten-day period. "Thirty-day" bills are "pocket vetoed" and do not become law if the governor does not sign them within the thirty-day limit. Bills that become law (bearing the governor's signature or just certifications of passage) are assigned a chapter number in the office of the legislative secretary to the governor. These enacted laws are called "chapter laws" and are numbered chronologically.

Further Information

Where to Find Legislature Rules

Where to Find Bills

Where to Find Bill Status

Where to Find Governor's Annual Message

Where to Find Names of the Standing Committees and Names of the Members

Where to Find "Chapter Laws"

2. SESSION LAWS

Session laws are annual volumes of "chapter laws" printed in chronological order (by chapter number). They include all types of legislation: public, private, temporary, and permanent laws. Subsequent amendments or repeals are not consolidated.

Where to find Session Laws

3. STATUTES & CODES

Consolidated Laws

Currently in-force laws of a public, general, and permanent nature are compiled into code by subject areas for easier access. In New York state, the subject compiled code is called the Consolidated Laws of New York. The Consolidated Laws of New York were first published in 1909. Each volume has a distinct subject title and chapter number. The number of Consolidated Laws has expanded from 61 in 1909 to over 90 today. Unlike the federal government and other state governments, New York state does NOT publish a current official version of its code. A free web version of the laws, New York State Consolidated Laws, is available on the State Assembly website, but it is not certified as containing the official text of the Consolidated Laws. There are two annotated versions of the Consolidated Laws by commercial publishers: McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated and New York Consolidated Laws Service.

Some laws, such as court acts, the New York City Charter and Administrative Code, and other special laws, are not part of the Consolidated Laws. These are called Unconsolidated Laws.

Where to find Consolidated Laws

Where to find Unconsolidated Laws

4. FINDING THE LAW THAT COVERS YOUR LEGAL ISSUE

Finding the Sections

Now that you know how bills are enacted and how laws are published and compiled, the first place to find the current law is Consolidated Laws of New York. Electronic versions (LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Web) are convenient to use if you have the citation. Electronic versions are usually more up to date, minimizing the need to update what you have already obtained. If all you have is a legal issue and you want to find out which sections ofNew York Consolidated Laws deal with it, Westlaw and the print versions are the most user friendly because of their subject indexes and popular name tables, which allow you to look up a legal concept by keyword or by popular name.

Updating the Sections

Even the electronic versions of the Consolidated Laws (LexisNexis, Westlaw, Web) are not current up to the minute. Depending on the purpose of your research, you may need to check newly enacted chapter laws and pending legislation to determine if your sections will be affected and when. Both LexisNexis and Westlaw tell you how current their Consolidated Laws databases are (i.e., which current chapter laws have been incorporated).

If you use the print versions of Consolidated Laws, here is what you must do:

McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated

  1. Find the section in the main volumes (using a citation you have or have found by checking a subject index or popular name table).
  2. Check the annual pocket part inside the back cover of the main volume. The cover of the pocket part usually tells you how current it is, e.g., "Current through the Laws of 2004, Chapter 258 of the 227th Session." If you cannot find your section in the pocket part, this means that your section has not been changed between the time of the publication of the main volume and the time of the publication of the pocket part.
  3. Check the "table of laws affected" in the latest annual McKinney's Session Laws of New York, which may include chapter laws not covered by the pocket part.
  4. Check the "table of laws affected" in ALL (not cumulative) of the monthly issues of McKinney's Session Law News of New York published since the annual McKinney's Session Laws of New York.

New York Consolidated Laws Service

  1. Find the section in the main volumes (using the citation you have or have found by checking an subject index or popular name table).
  2. Check the cumulative supplement either inside the back cover of the main volume or shelved next to it. The cover of the cumulative supplement usually tells you how current it is: "Contains all changes in the law enacted through and including chapter 671 of the 2004 session of the Legislature." If you cannot find your section in the pocket part, this means that your section has not been changed between the time of the publication of the main volume and the time of the publication of the pocket part.
  3. Check the "table of laws affected" in the latest annual New York Consolidated Laws Service Session Laws, which may include chapter laws not covered by the pocket part.
  4. Check the "table of laws affected" in ALL (not cumulative) of the monthly issues of Advance Legislative Services for the New York Consolidated Laws Service published since the annual New York Consolidated Laws Service Session Laws.