Don't Keep Us in Suspense!
Explaining the California Legislature Appropriations Committees' Suspense File
We're now at the point in the legislative session when a lot of bills have been or will soon be heard in their respective policy committees in their house of origin (e.g. the Human Services Committee). After bills pass policy committees, they are then referred to the Appropriations Committee. This is when we often hear questions from stakeholders about the next steps in the process. Frequently asked questions include...
“When is the Appropriations Committee hearing?”
How can I show support for a bill that’s been referred to Appropriations?”
… and, “What is the Appropriations Suspense File?”
Read on to learn a little more about the Appropriations Committee's unique role and process for determining which bills keep moving toward the Governor's desk, and which are left behind each legislative session. We also share how you can make your voice heard in support of bills in the Appropriations Suspense file in the most effective way.
Why does a bill get placed in the Suspense File?
Bills that are deemed to have a fiscal impact are referred to the Appropriations Committee. If the fiscal cost estimate is above $150,000 in the Assembly, or $50,000 in the Senate, they are then referred to the Appropriations Suspense file.
In the Appropriations Committees, there usually is no author testimony or public comment at the hearing. Committee members simply vote to place a bill “on suspense.”
How does a bill get out of the Suspense File?
The Appropriations Committee Chairs have wide latitude in determining which bills get out of suspense. They review the bills’ fiscal analyses prepared by the Committee staff to determine the estimated cost of each bill. Chairs also consult with their house’s leadership team, members of the committee, bill authors, and other stakeholders, but the decision is largely the Chair’s to make.
Decisions about which bills will get out or be held in the Suspense file are announced all at once during a marathon hearing on what is known as “Suspense Day.” At the hearing, bills are quickly reviewed by the Chair one by one — by topical order in the Assembly and by author name order in the Senate. The Chairs of the Appropriations Committees announce which bills will move on and which will be held in suspense. Those that are held in suspense are dead for that legislative session. Those that get out move on to a vote on the floor of the house they are in at that time.
How can I show support for a bill that’s been referred to the Suspense File?
Unlike in policy committees, formal letters of support from organizations and individuals are not listed in the Appropriations Committee analysis. Since the Appropriations Committee Chairs have so much say in which bills get out of suspense, it is most effective to focus advocacy on those key members, along with each house’s leadership (Speaker of the Assembly and Senate President pro Tem).
Your advocacy through meetings with members, emails, letters, phone calls, and even tweets can help influence a key member to support a bill at this critical point in the legislative process. You can see an example of a call to action targeting the Appropriations Committee for our Food4All campaign here.
What happens after a bill gets out of the Suspense File?
Bills that are held in suspense are dead for that legislative session. Those that get out move on quickly to a Floor vote in their respective house. After passing the Floor, bills still in their house of origin move on to the next house. Those passing their second house move on to the Governor’s desk.