The NCSL Blog


By Brenda Erickson

Many legislative sessions have adjourned or are wrapping up for this year. Yet bills may remain upon which no final action was taken before session ended.

What happens to these bills, you ask? Well, that depends upon the state.

In 23 states, the bills die. Nineteen legislatures start each year with a “clean slate” of newly introduced legislation. The legislatures in Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas are biennial, so no regular session is held during the second year of a biennium.

On the other hand, 27 states allow bills to carry over from the first year of a biennium to the second. In two states—New Jersey and Virginia, legislation carries over from the even-numbered year to the odd-numbered year in a biennium. Legislation in 25 states carries over from the odd-numbered year to the even-numbered year.

Carryover bills generally fall into one of three “status” categories.

  1. Bills remain exactly where they were when the first year ended—for example, in committee or on a floor calendar.
  2. Bills remain in (or revert back to) the standing committee to which last referred.
  3. All bills are sent to the chamber’s rules committee.

Some states establish special procedures for carryover bills. For example, in California, bills introduced in the first year of the biennium must be passed by the house of origin by Jan. 31 of the second year. If a bill is not passed by the house of origin by Jan. 31, it dies.

In Maine and North Carolina, the second session of a biennium has a limited scope—i.e., only certain subjects or bills are allowed to be considered—so not all bills introduced in the first session are eligible for consideration in the second session. The legislature passes a joint order or a resolution listing the bills to carry over.

It is important to note that carryover does not equate to a prohibition on identical bills (that is, bills containing the same text). A member may introduce identical legislation in both years of a biennium unless prohibited from doing so by other rules and procedures.

Legislation carryover mapLegend: Grey = no carryover. Green = Odd to even-numbered year carryover. Yellow = Even to odd-numbered carryover.

Brenda Erickson is a program principal in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program.

Email Brenda.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.