Pocket Translator for the Arizona Legislature

By: Christine Fort, Dallin Holt, and Brennan A.R. Bowen

The famous 20th century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, once opined, “The limits of my languages means the limits of my world.” If that is true, then the Arizona Legislature is particularly inaccessible to anyone unfamiliar with its specialized language. To remedy this, the Holtzman Vogel team has created a small pocket translation for some of the most common terms surrounding the Arizona Legislature.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of terms you should be familiar with when navigating the legislative process in Arizona.

  • 1st Read: When new bills are introduced.
  • 2nd Read: When a bill is assigned to a Committee, if it wasn’t assigned on First Read.
  • 3rd Read: The final reading of a bill—once it has passed all Committees and the Committee of the Whole (“COW”)—where the entire chamber votes on the bill. A simple majority is usually all that is required, although this varies for certain types of legislation (such as tax increases).
  • Agenda: List of bills that a given Committee will hear at a particular meeting.
  • Budget: The Budget for the entire state, which the Legislature must pass before it ends Regular Session.
  • Caucus: A meeting of a Party Caucus (Republican or Democrat) held to discuss bills passed out of the Committees to which they were assigned. No vote is held in caucus; it is merely an opportunity for the parties to stay informed on bills as they continue through the legislative process.
  • Committee Chairman: Decides which bills are placed on the Agenda for a hearing.
  • COW : A convening of the entire chamber (House or Senate) at which legislators have an opportunity to discuss and further amend a bill that was amended during, and passed out of, Committee.
  • Committees: Specific bodies in the House and Senate comprised of a designated number of legislators from both parties who discuss, vote on, and amend bills assigned to their respective Committees. There are two types of Committees:
    • Standing Committees: Committees that exist from one legislative session to the next, unless the Legislature votes to change them. (Current Standing Committees in each chamber).
    • Interim Committees: Committees that operate between legislative sessions, undertaking studies and investigating issues about which the Legislature desires further information. (Current Interim Committees in each chamber).
    • Conference: A Committee convened when a bill’s sponsor in one chamber does not agree to amendments made to that bill in the opposite chamber. When a bill that is started in one chamber (for example, the House) is then amended in the opposite chamber (the Senate), there are two possible outcomes: 1) the bill’s sponsor might agree to the amendments and accept them, in which case the originating chamber must conduct a Final Read on the bill; or 2) if the sponsor does not agree to the amendments, he or she can request a Conference Committee to negotiate the terms of the amendment and send the resulting bill to both chambers for Final Read.
  • Cross-over Week: The week where a bill that started in one chamber must make its way to the other chamber. For example, a bill that started in the House must pass all Committees, COW, and Reads, and then be sent to the Senate by the crossover deadline (and vice versa).
  • Final Read: Reading of – and subsequent vote on – a bill that has been amended by the opposite chamber. For example, a bill starts in the House and is amended by the Senate must pass Final Read in the House.
  • Hearing: Meeting of a Committee (that is open to the public) where legislators on that Committee will discuss and vote on bills on the agenda.
  • Initiative: The method by which voters may propose new laws (or constitutional amendments) or amend existing laws (or constitutional provisions) by gathering signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot.
  • Joint Legislative Budget Committee (“JLBC”): A joint legislative committee charged with “ascertaining facts and making recommendations to the Legislature regarding all facets of the state budget, state revenues and expenditures, future fiscal needs, and the organization and functions of state government.”[1]
  • Majority Leaders: The highest-ranking member of the party in power (majority party) for each chamber (currently, the Republicans in both the House and Senate). The current Majority Leader in the House is Representative Ben Toma (the Speaker of the House) and, in the Senate, it is Senator Warren Peterson (the President of the Senate).
  • Minority Leaders: The highest-ranking member of the party not in power (minority party) for each chamber (currently, the Democrats in both the House and Senate). The current Minority Leader in the House is Representative Andrés Cano and, in the Senate, it is Senator Raquel Terán.
  • President: The highest-ranking member of the Senate.
  • Referendum: The method by which voters may veto a law (or part of a law) by gathering signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot.
  • Regular Session: The 100-day legislative session prescribed by the Arizona Constitution, which starts on the second Monday in January.
  • RTS (or Request to Speak): The system used to track bills as the progress through Committees, Caucuses, and various Readings. It is also the system that must be used if you want to request to speak on a certain bill in a Committee.
  • Rules Committee: Every bill—once it is passed out of the assigned Committees—must also pass the Rules Committee to ensure that the bill does not conflict the Arizona or Federal Constitutions.
  • Sine Die: When the Legislature closes business for the Regular Session.
  • Speaker: The highest-ranking member of the House.
  • Special Session: A session of the Legislature that the Governor may convene to pass specific legislation on a single issue (such as a pandemic).
  • Sponsor: The legislator who introduces a given bill.
  • Strikers (or Strike Everything Amendments): Amendments that strike all of a bill’s original text and replace it with new text. This is often used as a Trojan Horse to advance a bill that may have otherwise died earlier in the legislative process.
  • The Voter Protection Act (VPA or Prop 105): A constitutional amendment that protects voter-lead initiatives or referenda once they become law. In short, if the Legislature wishes to amend a voter-lead initiative or referenda that has become law, the new legislation must further the purpose of the voter-lead initiative or referenda. Such legislation requires the approval of a ¾ supermajority of both chambers.

Although there is certainly more to the legislative lingo than this list captures, this should serve as a great starting point for anyone looking to familiarize themselves with Arizona-specific language.

[1] https://www.azjlbc.gov/jlbc-background/.