McGeorge Adjunct Professor Chris Micheli

Every bill in the California Legislature has four keys, which are all determined by the Office of Legislative Counsel. Keys are a feature of every California bill, same as a title, a bill number, and enacting clause. The four keys to a bill – which can be found at the end of the Legislative Counsel’s Digest are: vote, appropriation, fiscal committee, and local program.


The vote key specifies the vote threshold the bill has to clear in order to pass. Most bills in the California Legislature require a simple majority vote to pass – 21 votes in the Senate or 41 votes in the Assembly – but some require a 2/3 vote, or in rare instances a 4/5 vote, to pass.


This key provides the answer to the question “Does this bill appropriate funds?” If the bill results in an appropriation from the state’s General Fund or any Special Fund, the appropriation key will read yes. If the bill does not appropriate funds, it will be keyed no.

Fiscal Committee

The Joint Rules of the Assembly and Senate, specifically Joint Rule 10.5, help guide the Legislative Counsel when keying for fiscal committee. If the bill is keyed yes in fiscal committee, then the measure is supposed to be sent to the fiscal committee in each house, which in both houses is the Appropriations Committee. If it is not keyed fiscal the bill is generally referred to a policy committee or two for hearings. There are four reasons in Joint Rule 10.5 that guide whether a bill is keyed fiscal:

  • The bill appropriates money,
  • The bill results in a substantial expenditure of state money,
  • The bill results in a substantial increase or loss of revenue for the state, or
  • The bill results in a substantial reduction in expenditures of state money by reducing, transferring, or eliminating any existing responsibilities of any state agency, program, or function.
Local Program

California’s Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs that are mandated by the state. As a result, if the state’s Commission on State Mandates determines that the bill contains costs that are mandated by the state of California, then reimbursement of those costs must be made pursuant to California’s Government Code. The most common example of a state-mandated local program is when a bill expands the definition of a crime. Obviously, a bill that imposes a state-mandated local program would be keyed yes.

You can find the full transcript of today’s podcast here.