Civics 101: What's A 'Substitute' Bill? An 'Engrossed' Bill?

Apr 1, 2021

As bills move along in the Washington legislature, their names are adjusted to reflect action taken on them.
Credit TVW screenshot

The Washington and Idaho legislatures are moving into the final weeks of their 2021 sessions.

Citizens interested in specific bills can track them online using their assigned bill numbers. Those rarely change. But sometimes in Washington the letters attached to bills do change, and they provide clues as to the bills’ legislative journeys.

In Olympia, when a bill is introduced and put into written form, it is given a simple name. In the Senate, it’s SB, for Senate Bill, and a four-digit number. In the House, it’s HB and a four-digit number. When a bill is changed in some way, the letters may change too.

To ask more about that, we called the legislative information center and the people there connected us with Spokane Democratic Representative Marcus Riccelli.

“A bill could make it all the way as HB 1310 to the governor’s desk. Largely, those bills are technical bills, usually with not a lot of input needed, adding a member to a governor’s work group or something like that," he said.

But most bills are amended, either in a big way or with just a word here or there.

“These terms are used, for those watching with a close eye, to really understand where the bills have been changed. Following it through the house of origin is really helpful to understand," Riccelli said.

So let’s hear an example. We go to the Senate floor and the president of the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck. “The question before the Senate is final passage of Substitute Senate Bill 5165. The president is about to open the vote.”

Substitute Senate bill.

“If the bill is changed in committee, it becomes a substitute bill. If it visits more than one committee, it could be a second substitute. Sometimes they can even visit three committees, a policy committee and multiple fiscal committees," Riccelli said.

Back to the Senate floor.

“Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1068, on third reading and final passage. Remarks? Senator Hunt," Heck said.

“An 'engrossed' bill is a bill that has been amended on the floor of the house of origin. One of the interesting things is that, no matter how the bill leaves, when it leaves that house of origin, these terms like substitute, second substitute, engrossed, cannot be changed once it leaves that house of origin. And when it goes over there, it can be changed still, it will retain its same name, but it will say ‘as amended by”, if it was in the Senate, the Senate. If it was in the House, the House.”

So, when you hear this, "Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1274,” you can probably assume it’s a bill that’s received a lot of TLC.