Understand the legislative process for EMS laws

We don’t all need to be EMS lawyers but knowing a few basics about how bills become law will make you a better EMS provider

Editor's note: Part 2 of 2

By Wes Ogilvie, MPA, JD, LP, NRP

Just as EMS providers sometimes have difficulty understanding how laws are enforced and applied by the courts, we sometimes come up short in our understanding of how laws are made. It’s been a long time since the Schoolhouse Rock “I’m Just a Bill” cartoon was on T.V.

It’s just a bill!

Another area where the media (and EMS providers) sometimes get the law wrong is during the legislative process in state legislatures and the United States Congress. It's very important to note that few pieces of proposed legislation (also known as bills) make it through the legislative process to become law. In fact, the legislative process is almost designed to kill legislation rather than create it.

For example, the Field EMS bill failed to make it through the legislative process, despite receiving a great deal of attention in the EMS media and being a priority of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.

In the most generic terms, when a legislator files a bill, it is referred to a legislative committee to consider the bill. From there, the bill is voted on by that “house” of the legislature. If it passes, it then is sent to the other “house” of the legislature for committee review and a floor vote. 

If there are significant differences in the legislation, a “conference committee” made up of members of both chambers of the legislature will negotiate the differences before sending the bill back to both houses of the legislature to vote on the bill again. Then, of course, the bill is sent to the chief executive (state governor or the President of the United States) for their signature or veto.

It’s important to note that none of these steps in the process will happen for sure and that, particularly in state legislatures, there are timelines for how/when bills must progress. In other words, there’s a big difference between a legislator filing a bill and a bill becoming law. For example, during the past two sessions of the Texas Legislature, legislation was filed allowing EMS providers in defined rural areas the ability to carry a concealed firearm while on duty. That bill never received a committee hearing.

Some legislation is introduced simply for publicity

As an attorney in state government and having also worked as a legislative staffer, I’ve noticed that there are legislators on the extreme fringe of either party who are rarely taken seriously. Some of these legislators file the most outlandish or extreme bills, derisively called "press release bills" in an attempt to get publicity. The news media rarely fails to provide these legislators with the publicity that they crave. These bills rarely make it out of the committee process.

Know the legislative process to be an informed citizen

Years ago, in college, my statistics professor told us that we didn’t need to know statistics in order to become statisticians, but rather to become more informed consumers of statistics. Likewise, EMS providers don’t need to know the law to become lawyers, but rather informed citizens in a field that is heavily influenced by the law and the legal process.

About the author

Wes Ogilvie is a Texas licensed and nationally registered paramedic as well as a Texas attorney. He blogs at www.theambulancechaser.com. When he’s not knee deep in contracts or patient care, he’s passionate about good barbecue and EMS education. He’s currently employed in state government, where he does not deal with EMS regulation, volunteers his weekends as a paramedic, and is an instructor in several EMS disciplines including his position as an adjunct assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Nevada.

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