The General Assembly runs in two year sessions, beginning in odd years and ending in evens. The 146th General Assembly convened in January 2011 and will conclude in June 2012. Each year or “leg” of the session runs January to June, and any bills that have not been passed at the end of the first leg are carried over to the next. Any bills outstanding at the end of the second leg die in place, and passing them in future sessions requires starting the process below all over again.
This diagram, taken from the General Assembly’s site, lays out the general path a bill takes on its way through the General Assembly.
Bills which on passage would result in a cost to the state typically require an estimate of that cost, known as a fiscal note, from the Controller General’s office in order to proceed further down this path. Depending on the rules of the chamber, these bills may be assigned to a finance committee; if released, it may proceed to a chamber vote or be reassigned to a “substantive” committee (one devoted to a specific issue such as housing or health for example) for evaluation on its merits. Committee meetings are open to the public for observation and comment. Occasionally public comment is also heard when a bill is up for consideration by an entire chamber.