Government Documents and Microforms

How a Bill Becomes a Law and Various Other Sources

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A bill is the form in which most legislation is introduced. In short, a bill must be approved by both the House and the Senate and signed by the President. Once signed, it is a law.

Bills may originate in the House or Senate, are designated H. R. or S. and are numbered consecutively throughout a Congress (each Congress has two sessions; each session lasts one year). For instance, the 1997/98 Congress was the 105th.

In each chamber, the bill goes through approximately the same stages. In some cases, the bill may be introduced in both chambers at the same time. Each will have a different bill number. However, eventually the same bill will have to pass both chambers.

Various types of publications will be generated throughout the process. Following is a brief summary of the publications and steps:
  1. The bill is introduced and assigned to a committee.
  2. The committee usually refers the bill to a subcommittee for study, hearings, revision, and/ or approval.
  3. The subcommittee sends the bill back to the full committee, which may amend or rewrite the bill.
  4. The full committee decides whether to "kill" the bill or send it to the floor of its chamber for approval.
    Note: In the House, the bill usually goes to the Rules Committee to grant a "rule" governing debate.
  5. The leaders of the chamber then schedule the bill for debate and vote.
  6. The bill is debated, amendments offered and voted on, and a final vote is taken.
    Note: If different versions of the bill are passed in each chamber, a conference committee, composed of members of each chamber, will work out the differences. The bill is returned to each chamber for a vote on the revised bill.
  7. The President signs or vetoes the bill. If signed, the bill becomes a law; if vetoed, each chamber must approve the bill by a two-thirds majority for it to become law.
    Some differences: The House must initiate all revenue bills; tax and appropriations bills generally only have a House bill number, even though they must be approved by the Senate. The Senate gives "advice and consent" to many Presidential appointments and must approve treaties.

Or, you prefer a musical approach, there is the School House Rock version, click the video below.

See also:Abbreviations for Versions and Definitions of Common Versions of Bills via FDsys.