Illinois Legislative Cycle

The Legislative Calendar

The Illinois General Assembly convenes its regular session on the second Wednesday in January (as fixed by the state constitution) and adjourns in May or June.

It then reconvenes for a short Veto Session in the fall to consider the Governor's vetoes. But Springfield does not start from square one every year. The Illinois General Assembly is organized into a two-year cycle of legislative activity called a biennium.

Bills, Bills, Bills

Legislators make and revise laws and a bill is a proposed law. While anyone can suggest a bill, only legislators can introduce them or propose amendments to the legislative body. There are several
distinct types of bills:

  • Appropriation bills specify the dollar amounts for the operating expenses of state agencies.
  • Substantive bills make major changes in existing laws or create entirely new laws.
  • Revisory bills make technical changes in the form or in the wording. Such bills are not controversial, as they do not initiate policy change.
  • Shell/vehicle bills make no substantive change in the law. However, these bills are moved through the General Assembly so that at later stages in the process substantive legislation may be introduced.

1st Reading & Committee Hearing

On the road to becoming law, each bill must be "read" on 3 different occasions in both the Senate and the House. While bills used to be actually read aloud in their entirety, today this has been reduced to reading the title and distributing copies. The 1st reading is simply a bill's formal introduction after which it is assigned to a committee, made up of legislators, to be studied. In this pursuit the committee holds regular hearings at which specific bills will be "called" and anyone can come and present arguments for or against the proposed legislation. Hearings tend to be dominated by lobbyists and expert witnesses, but any citizen may participate by filling out a "witness slip," indicating a desire to testify (testimony can be submitted orally and/or in writing). Committee Amendments, formal revisions of a bill, may also be proposed at this time. After having studied a bill the committee votes to make one of the following recommendations: do pass, do pass amended, do not pass, or do not pass as amended. If the committee votes a "do not pass," the bill is considered dead. If they vote "do pass" then the bill is released from committee and moves onto the 2nd reading.

2nd Reading

While bills may be authored by a single legislator it is rare for a bill to run the legislative process without other legislators - proponents and opponents - adding their two cents. The 2nd reading is the arena in which amendments are considered. After changes made in committee have been handled amendments may be offered and voted upon by the floor. Often, the governor and the legislative leadership will become very active at this reading stage, trying to get amendments passed to the bill which will change it to their liking. Many bills drift into legislative limbo during the 2nd reading. This can happen for a variety of reasons: the legislature may run out of time; the bill’s sponsor may decide that there is too much opposition, or the sponsor may simply decide to forget the bill. Remember, out of the more than 4000 bills introduced each session only a few hundred make
their way through both houses.

3rd Reading

Bills cannot be amended at the 3rd reading. At this stage a bill is debated as is culminating in a roll call vote, meaning every legislator's vote is recorded as: yes, no, present, absent, or excused. All bills require a constitutional majority to pass (30 votes in the Senate and 60 votes in the House). If a bill passes it then automatically moves to the other chamber, where it must go through almost the exact same process again (1st, 2nd, and 3rd readings).

Concurrence & Conference Committee

If the Senate and the House do not pass a bill in exactly the same form, the bill has not passed. Certain things can be done, however. If one chamber has added an amendment, it is sent to the
other chamber for concurrence to the amendment. If one chamber refuses to drop the amendment and the other refuses to add it, a conference committee is formed. This committee consists of five members from both chambers who try to write a compromise version of the bill.


From the Latin for "I forbid," a veto is the means that the governor has of preventing legislation passed by the General Assembly from becoming law. The Governor of Illinois has four types of vetoes:

  • Line-Item Veto: The governor can reject spending amounts for specific programs or projects in an appropriations bill while still signing the remainder of the bill into law.
    Reduction Veto: The governor can reduce the amount of money spent for specific programs or projects in an appropriations bill.
  • Amendatory Veto: The Governor can return the bill to the General Assembly with specific recommendations for change.
  • Total Veto: The Governor can veto the bill in its entirety.

Lame Duck Session

Whenever the General Assembly meets to take care of unfinished business after the election of new legislators, but before the sitting Legislators' terms have expired, it is referred to as a lame duck session.