The Suspense File (transcript)

Today’s post is on the suspense file and the process used to consider fiscal legislation in the California Legislature.

The two appropriations committees in the California Legislature have a unique procedure and each of them terms it the “Suspense File.” In California, as opposed to the US Congress where the appropriations committees actually appropriate money, the two appropriations committees in the Senate and the Assembly are the ones charged with considering the fiscal effects of legislation.

A measure that is keyed, or tagged, fiscal by the Legislative Counsel generally means that the bill will be referred to the fiscal committee in each house after the appropriate policy committee(s) has/have actually heard and considered the bill, and passed it out.

Under the Joint Rules of the Senate and the Assembly, a bill is re-referred to the fiscal committee when the bill does one of four things:

  1. It appropriates money;
  2. It will result in a substantial expenditure of state money;
  3. It will result in a substantial loss of revenue for the state (one of the most common examples of this is a tax credit or tax exemption the reduces money to the state); or:
  4. It results in a substantial reduction of expenditures of state money by reducing, transferring, or eliminating any existing responsibilities of any state agency, program, or function.

The fourth one is a little more ambiguous and I would note that while the last three all talk about substantial, nothing in the Joint Rules – specifically Joint Rule 10.5 – defines the word substantial.

Under the rules of both houses, as opposed to the joint rules, the respective committees on appropriations may maintain a suspense file. Basically, that’s a file to which bills are referred by a majority vote of the members of the committee to allow further consideration and ultimate vote by the fiscal committee. A bill can be taken off the suspense file and heard with a two-day notice that is published in the Assembly Daily File or the Senate Daily File. Taking a bill off the suspense file requires a vote of the majority of the members of the committee.

There’s more on the suspense file process in the audio portion of today’s post. Thanks for listening.

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