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The California Governor’s Role in the Legislative Process

Most of the work of making laws is done by the legislative branch of government, though governors can play a key role beyond signing  vetoing legislation. Professor Chris Micheli, who teaches in McGeorge School of Law’s Master of Science in Law (MSL) in Government Law & Policy program, delivered a webinar that takes a detailed look at the role of the California governor’s office with regard to state legislation. 

Legislative Process
Professor Chris Micheli

Roles of the California Governor


There are many ways, Professor Micheli explained, that the California governor can lead and influence policy development as well as set major legislative agenda items for the California State Legislature.

The first key role of the California governor is making major policy addresses. The California Constitution requires the governor to address the State Legislature at the beginning of session and to provide a report at the end of the session. Last year, in January 2020, before the pandemic struck, Governor Newsom dedicated his entire address to homelessness, though typically in a State of the State address the governor highlights budget or policy priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

The second role of the California governor deals with special sessions. The California governor has the power to call the State Legislature into a special session to address specific issues (in the California Constitution this is referred to as an extraordinary session). Former Gov. Schwarzenegger, for example, called many special sessions, and governors can use them for many reasons. Sometimes the sessions relate to budget issues; sometimes they relate to significant policy areas, such as workers compensation. 

Another set of roles involves lobbying in favor of legislation and securing votes on legislation. The governor may meet with legislative leaders, especially those of his or her own party, in attempts to reach a compromise on major legislation. The governor may also meet with and communicate with individual legislators in attempts to secure a final set of votes on contentious legislation or reach a compromise. Last year, said Professor Micheli, Gov. Newsom was very involved in the legislative effort to eliminate cash bail in California.


Professor Micheli provided a detailed review of several additional roles of the governor and their relationship to legislation:

  • Bringing legislative leaders together with major stakeholders to discuss and fashion legislation
  • Laying out the parameters of legislation: what the executive will support and oppose, issues that must be addressed, or exercising or threatening veto
  • Proposing specific legislation that a member of the State Senate or Assembly then carries on behalf of the governor
  • Proposing specific legislation to take to the voters via the initiative route

Enacting Bills


There are three actions the California governor may take to act on bills:

  • Just as the president can sign bills sent to the president by the U.S. Congress, the California governor can sign bills received from the two houses of the legislature.
  • As provided for in the California Constitution, a governor can veto a bill. In this case the governor returns a bill they received to the house of the bill’s origin. The governor notes their objections to the bill. 
  • The third potential action relates to California’s“pocket signature” rule. Unlike the system at the federal level, in California a bill is allowed to become law without a signature from the executive branch. In other words, in California, if the governor fails to act on a bill received from the California State Legislature within the allotted time, the bill becomes law without the governor’s signature. This action rarely occurs, and thus far Gov. Newsom hasn’t used this rule.

Professor Micheli concluded with a historical look at how many bills get to the desk of a California governor as well as statistics about California Governor Newsom and the 2021 California legislative session. To hear the details, watch the webinar.

McGeorge’s Online MSL & LLM Programs


McGeorge School of Law offers two fully online part-time Master of Science in Law programs:

  • The MSL in Government Law & Policy is designed for local, state, and federal agency employees, and for lobbyists, legislative staff, and others who seek to enhance their skills in lawmaking, regulation, election law, and lobbying but who do not require a traditional law degree. Professor Micheli teaches two courses in this program: Legislature and Lawmaking, and Lobbying and Politics.
  • The MSL in Water & Environmental Law provides value to land use planners, engineers, environmental consultants, and others who seek expertise in this continually-evolving field but who do not require a JD degree.

Additionally, a fully online part-time LLM in Water & Environmental Law program is for attorneys, recent law school graduates, or foreign-educated legal professionals to develop depth of knowledge in a specialized area of environmental, water resources, regulatory compliance, and public agency law.

Students build marketable expertise with the guidance of expert faculty chosen for outstanding teaching as well as the depth of knowledge in government law, water resources, or environmental law. Courses emphasize real-world knowledge and the development of practical skills. The programs are convenient and are specifically designed for working professionals or students who need flexibility due to career, family, or other obligations, and who want to further their education and advance their career.

Start building your career today with McGeorge School of Law Online. For more information, contact us at graduatelaw@pacific.edu or 916.739.7019.

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