June 1999 Volume 6, Number 5
Bills don't fall out of the sky onto the House or Senate floor; like new additions to a
dinner party, they must be introduced.
The senator or representative who introduces a bill (by placing it in the
"hopper") for consideration and discussion in committee is called the original
sponsor. Other senators and representatives who add their names to the bill to indicate
their support are called co-sponsors. Original co-sponsors add their names to the bill at
its introduction, but others can add their names later while the bill is still in
A big list of co-sponsors shows other lawmakers and the public that there is support
for a particular bill, and can improve its chances of being passed. If a bill the Sierra
Club supports has yet to make it to a floor vote - because of a perceived lack or support
of a hostile committee chair, for example - we ask our activists to pressure their
representatives into signing on to the bill.
"Co-sponsorship shows leadership," says Melanie Griffin, director of the
Club's land protection programs. "It shows a willingness to step out front on an
issue. So it can take a certain amount of courage to co-sponsor a bill because you're
saying, 'Here's where I stand, and I'm proud of it.'" In the case of H.R. 1396, the
McKinney-Leach bill, she says, co-sponsors will "build momentum while we wait for the
rest of Congress to catch up to public opinion."
But, like dinner guests, bills can fall out of favor. A representative or senator can
retract co-sponsorship by saying they don't like the process or the timing or they favor
continuing negotiations. This is not always a bad thing. In 1997, Sen. Barbara Boxer
(D-Calif.) withdrew her co-sponsorship from the Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery and
Economic Stability Act of 1997 and fought the bill on the floor because of new scientific
information she received.
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