The Legislative Process

How a Bill Becomes Law

Starting Out

A bill must first start out as a need. Some citizen or political official has a problem and an idea for that problem. In the case of the citizen they go to their representative and tell them their problem and idea. The representative then writes up a bill and looks for a sponsor and other Reps to support the bill. Once the representative is confident they have a well worded and strongly supported bill they introduce it to the House.


The Introduction

After all the fine details are hammered out by the representative, the bill is then either handed to the Clerk of the House or placed in the hopper, a box that contains bills waiting to be introduced to the House of Representatives. After the bill is introduced it is then assigned a number and sent on it's way to the Committee.


The Committees

The job of the Committee is to test the worthiness of a bill. Congress cannot have bills allowed into the law-making process that waste their time, they already have enough trouble passing laws as it is. The Committee contains representatives on various fields such as agriculture and education. With all their expertise, the committee members review research, and revise the bill before then voting on if the bill can be sent back to the house floor.


Yet sometimes even the committee members need help when there is not sufficient enough information to vote on a bill. That is where the subcommittee comes in. It's their job to gather more information and gain opinions from qualified experts to make sure a bill is worthy and then they send it back to the Committee to be voted on.


Another committee is the Rules Committee. The Rules Committee acts as the police force that make sure the bill and the debate on the bill contain appropriate arguments for what the bill is proposing and no other unauthorized bills are attached on to the bill being debated on. It also must approve a bill being taken from the calendar and set a time for the bill's appearance on the floor.


Reporting a Bill

Once the committee has approved the bill they have several options on how to report it.


  1. They can report the bill favorably and make it the chairman's job to steer the bill through the debate floor. This is if they strongly recommend that the bill is passed.
  2. They can refuse to report the bill.
  3. Report an amended bill.
  4. Report the bill with an unfavorable recommendation. Happens rarely.
  5. Report a committee bill. A bill substituted in place of the other bill.

The Debate in the House

Once a bill has been approved to be reintroduced into the House the bill is then debated on by the representatives. the representatives are then open to support the bill or condemn the bill based on their views. Changes are made based on what the representatives agree and compromise on, and once all the changes they plan to make on the bill are made the house votes on the bill.


The Vote In the House

There are different ways a bill can be voted on in the house but it all comes down to a majority vote. If a bill cannot gain a majority vote it dies and is either dropped or reinstated into the process all over again. Then the bill goes to the Senate.


The Senate

The first steps a bill takes in the Senate are similar to the steps taken in the House. A bill is introduced to the Senate, reported to the committees, reintroduced into the senate, and then debated on. The difference in the senate is that they are allowed endless debate. This is shown when a senator or senators start a filibuster and basically hold the Senate ransom with a long debate until the Senate either gives in and moves on, or the senators who start the filibuster cannot go on any longer, or the Senate is able to gain sixty votes in a cloture and pass the bill. Then the bill moves on to the next step.


The Conference Committtee

Before a bill becomes law it has to be approved by both houses with a majority vote and the same language. This means that if the same bill in the House is passed with different language in the Senate they have to set up the Conference Committee. In the Conference Committee, members from both houses have to compromise on the bill and come to an agreement on the language. If this happens the bill is sent back to the two houses and is voted on again. If both houses pass the compromised bill with a majority vote the bill moves on to its possible final step.


The President's Decision

The final decision maker in the legislative process is a member of the Executive Branch, the President. The President has the power to veto the vote and send the bill back to both houses to be debated and voted on again.The house can then get a two-thirds majority vote and override the President's veto and make the bill a law. The President can also hold the bill for ten days, but the bill immediately becomes law if the President has not made a decision on the bill before those ten days have passed. If the President passes the bill he signs it and it becomes a law.