A Quick Lesson on How a Bill Becomes a Law in the United States

by Five Fantastic Lawyers™ on March 21, 2013

Guest post on how a bill becomes law in the United States.

The Legislative Branch of the United States’ political system has the duty of establishing laws that govern the country.

Laws are first introduced as “bills” that are reviewed and debated in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In addition to House and Senate members, any outside organization can sponsor proposed legislation.

Introducing a bill in the House

A bill goes to a House Committee which forwards it to a subcommitee. The subcommittee discusses the bill, holds hearings if necessary, and votes on whether to send it back to the full Committee.

Parts of the original bill can be changed by the Committee. If Committee members do not favor the proposed legislation and do not take action on it, then the bill is said to “die” in Committee.

When the Committee approves the bill, it is then forwarded to a Rules Committee, which determines how the issue will be debated among the full House of Representatives. The House can then pass it or send it back to the Committee for modifications. When a bill finally passes the House, it is sent to the President for his signature.

Introducing a bill in the Senate

A bill goes through the same process in the Senate as it does in the House. A bill is introduced to a Senate Committee which sends it to a subcommittee. Once reviewed, debated and approved by the subcommittee, the proposal goes back to the Committee.

Once the bill comes out of Committee, a Rules Committee sets guidelines on how the bill will be debated in the full Senate.

If a Senate debate goes smoothly, the bill is passed and sent to the President to sign.

Resolving Differences

There are times when the Senate and the House review the same bills but develop different versions of the proposed legislation. When this occurs, representatives from both groups meet in a “Conference Committee” to attempt to iron out their differences.

Once the committee comes to an agreement, the bill is taken back to the House and the Senate for a vote.

While House and Senate members publicly debate proposed legislation, the bills with controversial topics, such as spending cuts and tax hikes, usually generate a lot of media attention.

The President Has A Say

Just because the House and Senate pass a bill does not mean it immediately becomes law. The bill has to go to the President for his review. When the President approves and signs off on the proposed legislation, the bill becomes law.

The President does not always have to sign a bill for it to become law. If the President receives a bill while Congress is in session and he does not act on it for 10 days, the bill will automatically become law. If Congress is not in session and the President does not act on the bill in 10 days, the bill will die.

In instances where the President vetoes, a bill, the Senate and the House can override the President’s rejection with a two-thirds majority vote. However, what usually happens is the bill returns to the House and the Senate, where it is amended and sent back to the President for his signature.

About the author

Charlie Faulkner writes on a number of different legal topics, including Divorce Law, Intellectual Property, Constitutional Law, Secured Transactions and others as well.

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