The Path from Bill to Law: What Every American Needs to Understand

( – “There ought to be a law for that.” It’s a phrase that is commonly uttered in a number of different situations. In the United States, creating laws is the work of the two federal legislative bodies: The House of Representatives and the Senate. States also follow same general process when their legislative branches create state laws. Here is what every American needs to understand about how ideas become bills that become laws.

From Idea to Bill

As explained on the U.S. House of Representatives’ website, every law begins with an idea. From this idea, a proposed law — known as a bill — is created. Generally, bills are not written by elected legislative members themselves, but rather by a special interest organization or legislative staffers.

The bill is introduced to one of the chambers of Congress (either the House or the Senate). The member of that chamber who introduces the bill is known as the bill’s primary sponsor. The bill can have multiple original co-sponsors, and other members of the legislative body where the bill is being considered can also sign on as sponsors.

The Process of Making a Bill into a Law

Bills introduced in the House are assigned a bill number beginning with H.R., which stands for House of Representatives. Those introduced in the Senate are assigned a number beginning with S. Once the bill is introduced, it will be assigned to a committee of legislators from the chamber where the bill is up for discussion. This committee will research the bill and can even make changes to reflect the concerns or suggestions of the committee.

The Chamber’s Vote

Once the committee considering the bill has determined that it is ready for the consideration of the full chamber, they will release it for debate and a vote.

The Bill Moves to The Other Chamber

After one chamber has voted to approve a bill, it moves to the other chamber. For example, if the Senate passed a bill, a companion bill must also be considered and passed by the House of Representatives. The bill is introduced in the second chamber, who assigns it to a committee. The committee has the same opportunity as the first chamber’s committee did to discuss and make changes to the proposal.

After the committee votes to release the bill, the full chamber can debate and vote on it.

A Vote of Both Chambers

Once a bill has been passed by both chambers, senators and representatives must work together to iron out the differences in the bills that each chamber passed. After that, the full membership of both chambers will have the opportunity to vote on the final version of the bill.

Sending the Bill to the President

Once the bill’s final version has been approved by both legislative chambers of Congress, the bill will be sent to the President. In state governments, the bill passed by the legislative branch is sent to the governor. The president or governor can then decide to accept the bill and sign it into law, or to reject the bill by vetoing it. The president is given ten days to make a decision on the matter.

What If the President Vetoes the Bill?

If the president or governor decides to veto the bill, it is returned to the chamber where it originated. It generally contains an explanation for the veto. The veto can be overridden by a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate. If the vote is there to override the veto, the bill becomes law. However, if Congress adjourns during the ten-day period when the president is considering the bill, and the bill is vetoed, Congress is unable to override the veto. This is known as a “pocket veto.”

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