How a Bill Becomes Law

A bill starts with an idea, usually a solution to a problem. Only members of Congress can actually introduce legislation. There are 4 main types of legislation: bills, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions and simple resolutions.

Most bills are referred to standing committees by either the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate. The referral is based on subject matter and sometimes bills can be referred to more than one committee. Rules of procedure usually dictate what committee will receive the bill.

Depending on committee rules, a bill may be referred to a subcommittee for consideration or may go straight to the committee as a whole. It is during this process that the bill is evaluated carefully. At this point, if a committee takes no action, the bill will receive no further consideration.

In some committees, bills are sent to subcommittees for additional study and hearings. This is especially true of the Appropriations committee. These hearings allow for bills to be studied at a much closer level and provide an opportunity for many parties to testify or submit comments for the record.

Usually after a hearing on the subject, a bill or group of bills may be brought forward for a “mark up. During this time, members can make changes or amendments to the language of the bill. At this point the committee or subcommittee must vote to report. If this does not happen, the bill dies.

After a bill is voted on, the committee Chairman will work with committee staff to produce a written report on that bill. This report would include information such as the intent of legislation, the impact it may have, and the positions of stakeholders including opposition.

When a bill is reported favorably it is placed on the calendar. This process differs depending on the Chamber. In the House, a piece of legislation usually goes through the Rules Committee first, which dictates debate and how amendments may be offered.

Once a bill has reached the floor, there are rules and procedures that govern how the bill will be debated. These rules can set time limits, amendment limits, or other procedural limits. When the debate has closed and amendments have been voted on, the bill as a whole will be voted on by all members of the chamber.

At this point, if a bill has passed completely through one Chamber, it will be referred to the opposite Chamber. During this time, the bill will likely go through all the same steps that occurred in the previous Chamber.