Pennsylvania’s Constitution requires that every bill be considered three different times in the House of Representatives and the Senate. PA. CONST. art. III, § 4. Every time that a bill is considered, it is given a different status. When introduced, the bill is under “first consideration,” next it is under “second consideration,” and finally it is under “third consideration.” But, is there a difference between the three? Turns out the answer is yes.
First consideration differs a bit in the House and the Senate, but, in both instances, the first consideration is an announcement that a bill has been reported from the respective committee. During this phase, there are no debates or amendments from the floor in either Chamber. In the Senate, the bill is automatically placed on the calendar for second consideration. In the House, the bill is “laid on the table.” When it is laid on the table it becomes inactive, but it can only stay that way for up to fifteen legislative days. Once the fifteen days are up, the bill is removed from the table and placed on the calendar for second consideration. However, if the Rules Committee recommends that it come off the table sooner, the Majority Leader can motion that the bill be removed from the table. Additionally, a member of the House can motion for a bill to be removed from the table as long as they have the support of the majority of the members.
Between the first Monday in June and the first Monday in September, when a bill is reported out of committee to the House of Representatives, it is sent to the Rules Committee after first consideration. After the first Monday in September, bills are re-referred to the floor of the House and laid on the table. To be taken off the table, the procedure above must be followed.
On second consideration in both the House and the Senate, the name and number of the bill are reread, and members of Congress ensure the bill has enough information to discuss it. If a bill has a monetary cost, it is sent to the appropriations committee, which reports a price tag back to the floor. If a member has an amendment relevant to the bill, they can propose it during the second consideration. If there are any amendments, the bill is reprinted before it moves into third consideration. When the members agree that the legislation has enough information, it is placed on the calendar for third consideration.
The third consideration is the part of the process with which the public is most familiar. This is when robust debate on the bill’s merits occurs, and the members vote on whether to pass it. Amendments can still be proposed in this stage, but the bill must be reprinted if this occurs before the final passage vote. In the House, they require twenty-four hours between when the bill’s final version is printed and when the final vote occurs. In the Senate, this time frame is only six hours.
If a bill is passed in its originating chamber, it then moves on to the other chamber and goes through the three stages of consideration again. But, if all chambers have approved the bill, it is sent to the Governor to sign into law or veto.
In conclusion, each day of consideration is a different phase in which the members of Congress are thinking about passing a bill. In the first phase, they are introduced to the details of the bill. In the second phase, the General Assembly is reminded of the bill’s agenda to ensure they have all the necessary information to best represent their constituency when they vote upon the bill. Those that have a stronger understanding of the bill can introduce amendments during this phase. In the third phase, more amendments are introduced, debate occurs, and the bill is put to a vote for passage or not.