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Peak Behind the Scenes: How a Bill Becomes a Law

by Keltcie D. on Monday, November 11, 2013

All that stuff you learned back in school about how a bill becomes law takes on a whole new light when you’re a voting citizen.  So here’s a little refresher on what happens behind the scenes!   

In the United States all of our laws began as bills.  Bills must be approved by the US House of Representatives, the US Senate and the President before becoming a law.  Though the steps for getting through each of the chambers are slightly different, the overall basics remain the same. Let’s take a quick journey through the process as if the bill was introduced into the US House of Representatives.

  1. Bill Idea Begins and is Proposed: Bills begin as ideas from a citizen or a representative.  A Representative takes the idea, researches it, and writes it into bill format.  Then a legislator willing to serve as sponsor and find others to support the bill is identified.  Once the bill has a sponsor and support, it’s ready to be introduced to the chamber.
  2. Bill is Introduced: In the House of Representatives, only a representative can introduce a bill.  Once introduced, it’s assigned a number and sent by the Speaker of the House to one of the standing House committees.
  3. Bill Goes to Committee:  In committee, the bill is reviewed, researched, and revised by a group of issue-related experts.  The committee votes to see if it will be sent back to the House floor.  Sometimes, committee members want even more information and the bill can be sent to a subcommittee.  In subcommittee the bill is examined even more closely before being sent back to the committee for a vote.
  4. Bill is Reported, Debated, and Voted on: When a committee has approved a bill, it is sent to the House floor.  During the debate, the reading clerk reads the bill section by section, and the Representatives recommend changes.  When all changes have been made, the bill is ready to be voted on.  Before it can continue on its journey, it must receive a majority of yes votes from the Representatives. 
  5. Bill is Referred to the Senate: When the bill reaches the Senate, it goes through many of the same processes it went through in the house, and must also receive a majority of yes votes before it’s passed on to the President.
  6. Bill is Sent to the President: The President has three choices when a bill reaches his desk.  He can sign and pass the bill, making it law.  He can refuse to sign (veto), and send it back to the US House of Representatives with his reason for veto, where the bill can again be voted on.  In this situation, if two-thirds of the Representatives and Senators support the bill, the President’s veto is overridden and the bill becomes a law.  The third option: the President can do nothing (pocket veto)—if Congress is in session the bill becomes law after 10 days, if Congress is not in session the bill does not become a law.

When a bill has passed through both chambers and is approved by the President (or the veto is overridden), the bill becomes a law!

At every step along the process before the bill is finalized, YOU have the opportunity to influence how your lawmakers vote.  The emails you receive from us make it easy to help drive our bills forward, and your voice is needed on every one of them.

Here’s a little ditty you might even remember from school that sums it up with a beat!

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Comments (3)

  • Good information, schools should show this video to children.

    — Nathan T.

  • I remember this ad as a children. Thanks for helping us  to remember how bills get started and become law. Thank you AHA/ASA.

    — Nathan T.

  • Thanks for this great reminder. Its easy to forget it takes a lot of work to go from idea, to bill, to law. How empowering that we can affect change!

    — Yolanda D.

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