Just the Facts

Five Facts on Drafting a Bill

By No Labels
August 6, 2019 | Blog

For a bill to become law, it must be passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by the president. A bill can be introduced by either the House or the Senate. If it passes in the chamber of origination, it must go through a debate and approval process in the other chamber before it goes to the president. Drafting a bill is complicated, so here are five facts to explain the process. 

When a bill is introduced by a member of Congress, it is numbered, referred to a committee, and printed by the Government Printing Office – signifying the start of the legislative process[1]

There are four types of legislation – bills, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions, and simple resolutions. Anyone may draft a bill, but it needs to be sponsored and introduced by a member of Congress. House bills are numbered beginning with H.R., H. Res., H. Con. Res., or H. J. Res.  Senate bills are numbered beginning with S. More than one representative can sponsor a bill and become a co-sponsor. A bill can be introduced in either the House or the Senate.

After a bill is introduced, it has a first reading on the House or Senate floor and is referred to a committee for markup. A committee may refer a bill to a subcommittee.

Each of the 19 House committees and 16 Senate committees have jurisdiction over different areas of policy ranging from agriculture to international relations. When the bill reaches a committee, it is placed on the calendar for debate and mark up. The committee can propose changes to the bill that committee members vote on. The committee may decide the bill needs intense study and research, and will refer it to a subcommittee that will hold hearings for the appropriate information. The subcommittee votes on changes, then sends it back to the committee for a final vote[2]

A bill is released from committee and reported to the House or Senate floor with an accompanying report. The bill is placed on one of the calendars and then sent to the floor for consideration[3].  

The House and Senate have different rules on bringing a bill to the floor. There are several modes of consideration for bills in the House, depending on the content of the given bill. The House chooses the mode of consideration based on importance, cost, and controversy level of the bill. After a bill is debated, it gets a second reading where amendments are introduced and voted on. After all amendments are considered, the bill is read a third time on the floor by the reading clerk of that chamber. In the Senate, a motion to proceed with consideration of the bill must be made by a senator. After a motion is made, then the Senate can debate the motion and begin consideration of the bill[4].

Once a bill is considered and debated, it is put to vote on the chamber floor. House members vote using an electronic voting system. Senators do not use electronic means. 

Members can vote ‘yea’ for approval, ‘nay’ for disapproval, or ‘present’ if they attend but choose not to vote. If a bill is passed and originated in the House, it goes to the Senate where the bill undergoes a similar process of review and approval. If the Senate amends the bill, it is sent to a conference committee of both House and Senate members for approval. A similar process occurs if a bill is passed that originated in the Senate[5]

Once both chambers pass a bill, it is sent to the president for signature. If the bill is signed, it becomes law. 

If the president does not sign the bill and Congress is in session, the bill becomes law after 10 days. If Congress has adjourned the session, the bill dies. If the president deems the bill unwise, they will veto the bill and it will return to the house of origin. If enough members object to the veto, there will be a veto override vote. If two-thirds of both the House and the Senate vote to override the veto, the bill becomes law. If there are not enough votes to override the veto, the bill dies[6]

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