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How a Bill Becomes a Law

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Understanding the Legislative Process


How a Bill Becomes a Law

1: Origins of Legislation
Suggestions for legislation can come from anyone, i.e. lawmakers, interest groups, or constituents. However, legislation can only be officially introduced by a Member of Congress. The Member who introduces the bill is known as the chief sponsor of the bill.
2: Committee Assignment
Once a bill is introduced, it is assigned a number and referred to a specific committee. A subcommittee may consider the bill before any action is taken by the full committee. Committees "mark up" or make changes to the bill, hold public hearings allowing testimony for or against the bill, and are responsible for deciding whether to "report" or "not report" a bill to the House or Senate floor. Bills not reported die in committee and no further action is taken. Bills reported to the floor are scheduled for floor action. 
3: Chamber Floor
Once a bill is reported from committee, it moves to the floor of the respective chamber (the House or the Senate). At this time, rules and restriction are placed on the bill limiting the time of debate, including what types and how many amendments may be added to the bill. Members will then debate the bill and take a vote. If the bill passes one chamber, i.e. the Senate, it then moves to the House, or vice versa. Once a bill passes through one chamber, it undergoes a similar process in the other chamber.
4: Conference Committees
If there is a substantial difference between the bills passed by each chamber, then a conference committee is convened to resolve the differences. The conference committee is composed of Members from each chamber. Once the committee produces a final bill, known as a "conference report," the bill is then sent back to both chambers to be voted on again. Once the bill leaves the conference committee to be voted on by each chamber, it cannot be amended or changed. If both chambers approve the bill, the bill is sent to the president. 
5: The President
When Congress sends a bill to the President, the bill will either be signed or vetoed. If the bill is signed, it becomes law. If the bill is vetoed, it goes back to Congress for a vote. A two-thirds majority vote is required to override a presidential veto and enact a bill into law.

The House
Legislation is introduced in the House.

The bill is assigned a number and sent to a committee and possibly a subcommittee.

Subcommittees and committees hold public hearings on the bill, make changes, and vote on the bill.

If the bill passes out of committee, it goes to the Rules Committee to determine limits on debate and amendments.

The bill is debated and voted on.

If the bill passes, it is sent to the Senate or to a conference committee to resolve difference with an already existing Senate bill.

The Senate
Legislation is introduced in the Senate.

The bill is assigned a number and sent to a
committee and possibly a subcommittee.

Subcommittees and committees hold public hearings on the bill, make changes, and vote on the bill.

If the bill passes out of committee, the
Senate leadership schedules the debate
and determines the rules for debate.

The bill is debated and voted on.

If the bill passes, it is sent to the House or
to a conference committee to resolve difference with an already existing House bill.

A final bill, approved by both chambers, is sent to the President for signature or veto.