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Legislative Process

The legislative process is a series of steps that a legislative body takes to evaluate, amend, and vote on a proposed legislation.  The U.S. Congress, state legislatures, county boards, and city councils are machineries engaged in the legislative process.  Most legislation in the United States is enacted by the Congress and state legislatures.  The following is a step by step description of how a proposed legislation or a bill is passed into law

Step 1- Introduction:

Only a member of the House of Representatives or Senate can introduce the bill for consideration.  The Representative or Senator who introduces the bill becomes the “sponsor” of the bill.  A bill may also have cosponsors, who are other legislators who support the bill or work on its preparation.  Usually, important bills have several co-sponsors.  There are four types of legislations that are considered by Congress.  They are: bills; simple resolutions; joint resolutions; and concurrent resolutions.  The bill or resolution that has officially been introduced in either House is assigned a number (H.R. # for House Bills or S. # for Senate Bills), and printed in the Congressional Record by the Government Printing Office.

Step 2- Committee Consideration:

All bills and resolutions that are officially introduced in the House of Representatives or Senate are then “referred” to one or more House or Senate standing committees.  Major legislations are usually referred to more than one committee.

Step 3- Committee Action:

Once referred to it, the committee considers the bill in detail.  A bill can be referred to a subcommittee or considered by the committee as a whole.  It is at this point that the bill is examined carefully and its chances for passage are determined.  If the bill must go through more than one committee, the first committee must refer it to the second committee.  The subsequent committee can then only act on the bill.  If the committee does not act on a bill, it is equivalent to killing the bill.  If the committee approves the bill, it moves on in the legislative process.

Step 4- Subcommittee Review:

Usually, the committee sends bills to a subcommittee for further study and public hearings.  Hearings based on the bill provide the executive branch, experts, other public officials, supporters and opponents of the bill, an opportunity to put on record their views regarding the bill.  Anyone having an interest in the bill can give their testimony either in person or in writing.  Notice regarding these hearings, as well as instructions for presenting testimony is officially published in the Federal Register.

Step 5- Mark Up:

After the hearings on the bill are completed, the subcommittee may make changes and amendments to the bill, and decide to report or recommend it back to the full committee for approval.  This process is called “Mark Up.”  If the subcommittee decides not to report a bill to the full committee, the bill dies there.

Step 6- Committee Action – Reporting a Bill:

After the subcommittee reports or recommends the bill back to the full committee for approval, the full committee reviews the deliberations and recommendations of the subcommittee.  The committee may also conduct further review, hold more public hearings, or simply vote on the report from the subcommittee.  The full committee then prepares and votes on its final recommendations to the House of Representatives or Senate.  Once a bill has successfully passed this stage it is said to have been “ordered reported” or simply “reported.”

Step 7- Publication of Committee Report:

Once a bill has been reported, a written report about the bill is published.  The report will include the intent and scope of the bill, its impact on existing laws, budgetary considerations, and any new taxes or tax increases that will be required by the bill.  The report may also contain transcripts from public hearings on the bill, as well as the opinions of the committee for and against the bill.

Step 8- Scheduling Floor Action:

Once the bill has been reported with a favorable report and published, it will be placed in chronological order on the legislative calendar of the House of Representatives or Senate and scheduled for “floor action” or debate before the full membership.  The House of Representatives has several legislative calendars.  The Speaker of the House and House Majority Leader decide the order in which reported bills will be debated.  However, the Senate has only one legislative calendar.  During its wait for floor action, the bill is subject to a motion to refer it again to the same committee or any other committee for reconsideration.  This is a classic method of defeating a bill without taking it to the stage where it is put for final vote.

Step 9- Debate:

When a bill reaches the floor of the House of Representatives or the Senate, debate for and against the bill proceeds before the full House or Senate according to strict rules which determine the conditions and amount of time allocated for general debate on the bill.

Step 10- Voting:

Once debate on the bill has ended and any amendments to the bill have been approved, the full membership will vote for or against the bill.  Voting is done either by a voice vote or a roll-call vote.

Step 11- Bill Referred to Other Chamber:

A Bill approved by one chamber of Congress (House of Representatives or Senate) are then sent to the other chamber where they will usually follow the same track of committee to debate to vote, as described in steps 2 to 10 above.  The other chamber may approve, reject, ignore, or amend the bill as it deems appropriate.

Step12- Conference Committee:

If only minor changes are made to the bill by the other chamber, the bill will go back to the first chamber for concurrence.  However, if the second chamber makes significant changes to the content of the bill, a “conference committee” made up of members of both chambers, usually three to five members from each chamber will be formed.  The conference committee will have to work to reconcile the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill.  If the committee cannot agree, the bill simply dies.  If the committee succeeds to reach a compromise version of the bill, they should prepare a conference report detailing the changes they have proposed.  Both the House of Representatives and Senate must approve the conference report.  If the bill is not approved, it will be sent back to the conference committee for further work.

Step 13- Final Action – Enrollment:

Once both the House of Representatives and Senate have approved the bill in identical form, it becomes “Enrolled” and sent to the President of the United States.  The President may sign the bill into law.  If the president signs the bill, from then on the enrolled bill becomes an act, a written law.  The President can also take no action on the bill for ten days while Congress is in session and the bill will automatically become law.  If the President is opposed to the bill, he can “veto” it.  If the President takes no action on the bill for ten days after Congress has adjourned their second session, the bill dies.  This action is called a “pocket veto.”

Step 14- Overriding the Veto:

Congress can attempt to “override” a presidential veto of a bill and force it into law, by a 2/3 vote by a quorum of members in both the House of Representatives and Senate.

Inside Legislative Process