Introduction of State Legislation
Procedures vary state by state but follow the same basic format as the federal government for introducing legislation. To learn more about how your state legislature functions, check your state’s legislative page, do an internet search, or review the information provided by the National Council of State Legislatures.
Introduction of Federal Legislation
Ideas for bills or drafting of wording can come from anyone, but only a Member of Congress (who becomes the “sponsor”) can introduce legislation. There are two basic types of legislation: bills and resolutions.
- Bills are used to create public policy.
- Resolutions (joint, concurrent and simple) are used to appropriate money or express a sentiment of Congress. Amendments to the Constitution have to originate in Congress as joint resolutions.
The official legislative process begins when a bill or resolution has been assigned a number. Senate bills are designated by beginning with an S. House introduced legislation begins with H.R. (Only the House can originate bills appropriating money.)
After legislation is introduced, it is referred to the committee that has jurisdiction over the subject. A bill may be sent to a single committee, several committees at once, from one committee to another or split up and different parts sent to different committees.
Procedural rules determine how bills are referred to the various standing committees of the House or Senate. Each bill referred is placed on the committee’s calendar. It can be considered by the entire committee or referred to a subcommittee for review. This phase of the process is very important as bills are examined by the committee to determine how likely it is to be passed. If a committee does not act on a bill, it has the same effect as killing the bill.
Bills are referred by the committee to a subcommittee which have a narrower focus to allow further study.
- Hearings: This process allows the opportunity to put on record the views of supporters, opponents, executive departments, experts and others. Questions from committee members and testimony of witnesses is presented in person or by written statement and generally prepared in advance to support a position on a bill.
- Mark Up: The subcommittee meets to discuss their views and suggest amendments to the bill. (Amendments at this point do not have to be related to the subject of the bill.)
- Reporting Out (or ordering a bill reported): After the mark up is done, a final draft of the bill is voted on by the subcommittee for approval. If the majority approve, the bill is “reported out” or recommended back to the committee to act on the legislation. If the subcommittee does not report back to the committee recommending the legislation, then the bill is dead.
If the subcommittee reports out legislation, the full committee will go through the same process of hearings, mark up and reporting out. If the committee approves a bill, it is reported out to the full Senate or House.
Publication of Written Report
The committee chairman requests the staff to write a report on the bill describing the intent and scope of the legislation, the executive branch’s position, any impact on current laws and/or programs, and the opinions of any committee members who voted against “ordering a bill reported.”
After the committee reports the bill back to the appropriate chamber (House or Senate), the legislation is placed on the calendar in chronological order for debate.
- Floor Debate: Each chamber has different procedures for the time and rules of general debate on proposed legislation.
- House – the Rules Committee sets the terms of debate. It may place limits on time used and type and number of amendments that may be offered. If the Rules Committee does NOT place rules on a piece of legislation it does not get debated and dies. Once a bill is on the floor both supporters and opponents are allowed to speak. Any amendments offered must be related to the main subject of the legislation.
- Senate – The terms of debate are often done by a Unanimous Consent Agreement (approved by party leaders). Any Senator may speak or filibuster against a piece of legislation for as long as they wish. A filibuster may only be ended by invoking cloture (which requires 60 Senator to vote to end debate).
- Voting: After any changes to the legislation have been introduced and any debate finished, the members vote to either pass or defeat the bill.
- Referral to Other Chamber: After a bill has been passed in one chamber, it is referred to the other one. The legislation then follows the same basic procedure in the second chamber. The bill may be approved, rejected, changed, or ignored. If it is approved with no or only minor changes, the bill is sent back to the first chamber for agreement.
Frequently similar bills go through the Senate and House at the same time. But both chambers must pass identical legislation in order for it to be sent to the President. If there are significant differences to the legislation, a committee is formed to reconcile the House and Senate versions and a report is written of the recommendation for changes. If the committee cannot reach an agreement the legislation dies. If a report is made then both the House and the Senate must vote again to approve the legislation.
Action by the President
Once a bill has been approved by both chambers it is sent to the President and he may:
- Sign the bill and it becomes law
- Veto the bill and send it back to Congress with suggestions
- Take no action, and if Congress is still in session, after 10 days it automatically becomes law
- Take no action, and if Congress is no longer in session, the bill dies (pocket veto).
Overriding a Veto
Congress can override a veto by the President by two-thirds vote in both chambers.