How Laws Are Made
Laws may be initiated in either chamber
of Congress, the House of Representatives or the Senate. For this example,
we will track a bill introduced in the House of Representatives. For
more information, try How Our Laws Are Made (Senate Document
|1. When a
Representative has an idea for a new law, s/he becomes the sponsor of
and introduces it by giving it to the clerk of the House or by placing
it in a box, called the hopper. The clerk assigns a legislative
number to the bill, with H.R. for bills introduced in the House of
Representatives and S. for bills introduced in the Senate.
The Government Printing Office (GPO) then prints the bill and
distributes copies to each representative.
track the bill history of the International
Dolphin Conservation Act.
|2. Next, the bill is
assigned to a committee (the House has 22 standing committees, each with
jurisdiction over bills in certain areas) by the Speaker of the House so
that it can be studied.
standing committee (or often a subcommittee) studies the bill and hears
testimony from experts and people interested in the bill. The
committee then may release the bill with a recommendation to pass it, or
revise the bill and release it, or lay it aside so that the House cannot
vote on it. Releasing the bill is called reporting
it out, while laying it aside is called tabling.
|3. If the bill is
released, it then goes on a calendar
(a list of bills awaiting action). Here the House Rules Committee
may call for the bill to be voted on quickly, limit the debate, or limit
or prohibit amendments. Undisputed bills may be passed by
unanimous consent, or by a two-thirds vote if members agree to suspend
|4. The bill now goes to
the floor of the House for consideration and begins with a complete
reading of the bill (sometimes this is the only complete reading).
A third reading (title only) occurs after any amendments have been
added. If the bill passes by simple majority (218 of 435), the
bill moves to the Senate.
|5. In order to be
introduced in the Senate, a senator must be recognized as the presiding
officer and announce the introduction of the bill. Sometimes, when
a bill has passed in one house, it becomes known as an act;
however, this term usually means a bill that has been passed by both
houses and becomes law.
Just as in the House, the bill then is assigned to a committee. It
is assigned to one of the Senate's 16 standing committees by the
presiding officer. The Senate committee studies and either
releases or tables the bill just like the House standing committee.
|7. Once released, the
bill goes to the Senate floor for consideration. Bills are voted
on in the Senate based on the order they come from the committee;
however, an urgent bill may be pushed ahead by leaders of the majority
party. When the Senate considers the bill, they can vote on it
indefinitely. When there is no more debate, the bill is voted
on. A simple majority (51 of 100) passes the bill.
The bill now moves onto a conference committee, which is made up of
members from each House. The committee works out any differences
between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The revised
bill is sent back to both houses for their final approval. Once
approved, the bill is printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office in
a process called enrolling. The clerk from the introducing house
certifies the final version.
|9. The enrolled
bill is now signed by the Speaker of the House and then the vice
president. Finally, it is sent for presidential
consideration. The president has ten days to sign or veto
the enrolled bill. If the president vetoes the bill, it can still
become a law if two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House
then vote in favor of the bill.