What Ever Happened to “That Bill”

Ever wondered what happened to “that bill” you heard about and then heard nothing more about?  We thought so.  Let’s take a moment this morning to grab some insight into the legislative hopper, using the example of the federal bill, known as the “Veterans’ Heritage Firearms Act.”

The Veterans’ Heritage Firearms Act would offer a 90-day amnesty period for Veterans and their family members to register a firearm acquired prior to October 31, 1968 into the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, if acquired while a member of the Armed Forces, stationed outside of the continental US.  Additionally, if such a firearm qualifies as a curio or relic and is forfeited to the US, the Attorney General would be required to publish information identifying each such firearm and then transfer the firearm to the first qualified museum requesting its acquisition.  Destruction of any such firearm would be prohibited for a period of five years.

You can to go Congress.gov and for the 2013-2014 session, you can find this Bill under H.R. 449.  During the 2011-2012 session, this Bill had been introduced in both the House and in the Senate under different numbers.  A “Session” of Congress occurs every two years.  At the end of every Session, every Bill that is not passed automatically expires.  Any Bill with sufficient political support is then renumbered and reintroduced.

Once a Bill is introduced, it is (generally) assigned to one or more Committees.  In the case of the Veterans’ Heritage Firearms Act during the 2013-2014 Session, the Bill was introduced in the House and then it was fanned out to the House Judiciary Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and then, a month later, the House Judiciary Committee referred it to its Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

It’s possible that the Veterans’ Heritage Firearms Act gets out of the Subcommittee and is then passed and voted out of the three Committees between now and December, but only nine Republican Representatives are cosponsoring the Bill.  There are 435 voting Members in the House, a majority of which are Republicans.  Considering that this Bill was already allowed to expire when numbered in both Chambers of Congress and that it is now only numbered in the House, is in three Committees, and is in a further single Subcommittee, it feels unlikely that this Bill will pass even the House in 2014.

The phrase on the Hill for this is either “lost in Committee” or “death by Committee,” the latter having more connotation for Bills with active debate in progress that are not ever called to a vote in the Committee. 

One quick tip on legislation – federal or state – is to keep a file folder nearby, into which you toss articles or Bills that catch your eye.  You can use the Thomas.gov (or comparable state search engines) to pull the Bill number and primary Sponsor.  Either continue to use the legislative search engine or call the legislator’s office.  Better yet, when you’re in favor of legislation, send a letter to the list of Sponsors with a three-paragraph letter that includes (1.) the Bill name and number; (2.) why you support the Bill; and, (3.) anything about your credentials that vaults the weight of your opinion. 

Inevitably, if a Bill does not have sufficient political support, it will expire at the end of a Session and then not be renumbered or reintroduced.  In that case, the outcome of “that Bill” is “failed.”