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How a Bill Becomes a Law

August 10th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

America is known as the country of freedom, but if we had no established laws, Americans would not be as prosperous as we are today. The process of making laws, known as the legislative process, is governed by rules, laws and procedures. Although the legislative process is long and complex, all laws begin as simple ideas. When a member of Congress has an idea for a new law they present it as a bill, which is the most common type of legislation. The path of a bill, from the time it is just an idea to the time it arrives at the President’s desk for approval, is paved with many detours. A bill must be passed through both houses of congress, the House of Representatives or the Senate, in identical form, before it can be made a law. This is achieved through a step-by-step process that begins in either house.

When a bill originates in the House of Representatives the idea is presented to a representative. The Representative decides whether or not they want to sponsor the bill and introduce it to the rest of the house. If the Representative decides not to sponsor the bill, he sets it aside and does nothing, which is known as tabling the bill. Eventually the bill is forgotten about and dies. If they choose to sponsor it, they present the bill to the Chief Clerk of the House. The chief assigns the bill a number to keep track of it through this process. Then the bill is sent to the U.S. Government Printing Office to make copies and is returned to the house. The copies are dispersed to the rest of the Representatives and the bill goes through its first reading. The speaker then assigns a committee to further review the bill. The committee will put the bill through public hearings and work sessions where revisions and additions can be made. If there are additions made to the bill, it is reprinted and includes the new amendments. After it is reviewed the Committee Chair signs it. The revised bill goes through a second reading, and finally a third reading before the house can vote on it. The bill must receive the majority of the houses votes to be passed on to the other house.

Once the House of Representatives passes the bill, it then goes to the Senate, where it follows the same process of revisions. The senate president assigns the bill to a committee, where it goes through the same three readings that it went through in the House of Representatives. Once again, the bill must receive the majority of the houses vote to be passed.

The bill must be passed in identical form from both houses in order for it to be passed on to the president. Even if one word is changed, it cannot move on to the President; it must go to the conference committee. The conference committee is made up of members of both houses, which come together to work out any differences between the different versions of the bill. The revised bill is then sent back to each house for final approval. The clerk from the introducing house then certifies the final version. The bill is then printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office and is now enrolled. The Speaker of the house and the vice president sign the enrolled bill and it is sent for presidential consideration.

Once the president receives the bill he can do one of three things. He can choose to sign the bill and make it a law, or the bill can become a law if the president does not sign it within ten days while Congress is still in session. If Congress adjourns before the ten days are up and the president has still not signed the bill, this is know as a “pocket veto” and the bill does not become a law. The president can also veto the bill and send it back to congress with a note that lists the reasons for the veto. The house, which originated the legislation, can attempt to override the veto by a vote of two-thirds of those present. If both houses override the veto, the bill will become a law.

In order for a bill to get to presidential consideration it must go through this step-by-step process beginning in either house. An identical form of the bill must be passed and approved by both houses and then approved by the president. The law making process is long and complex but the chief function of Congress is for making these laws to keep America as successful as it is today.

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