The Bill Process
The Bill Process through Congress
In the United States, a bill is a proposed piece of legislation to be considered by the legislature. Specifically, entities ranging from corporations, citizens, special interest groups, and anything in between, can propose an idea for a bill to a legislator. A bill must be approved by the U.S. House of Representatives,the U.S Senaten, and in the federal case, the Executive Branch in order to become a law. If a bill is enacted into law, it is then formally reassigned as an Act or a statute.
House of Representatives
A corporation, citizen, group, or any other entity can propose an idea for a bill to a legislator as the first step to get a bill created. If the legislator is in favor of the idea, he or she researches the idea and writes it into a bill.
Since there are numerous bills proposed daily, committees composed of small groups of legislators, review the content of the proposed bill in detail. In addition, the bill needs a sponsor. Once a bill acquires this sponsor and gains the support of some other legislators, it is fit for introduction to the U.S House of Representatives
Only legislator in the House of Representatives can introduce the bill to the House. The bill is then read out to all of the Representatives and sent to one of the House standing committees.
When the bill arrives at the committee, members of the committee that are experts on the bill's topics research and review the bill before voting on whether or not to send it back to the House floor. If more information on the bill is needed, committees may refer a bill to a subcommittee for further study and hearings on the piece of legislation. Hearings provide an opportunity for experts, proponents, and opposition to make their views known during the subcommittee review process. Following the hearing process, subcommittees may amend the bill prior to forwarding the piece of legislation to the full committee.
Full committees then make a recommendation to the House floor on whether or not they believe the bill should be approve or rejected. Furthermore, they may abstain from making a recommendation. The procedure is formally known as "ordering a bill reported".
The Representatives of the House discuss and debate the bill. Representatives recommend changes and with enough support, enact those changes onto the bill. When all changes are final, the bill is ready to be voted on.
There are three methods by which bills are voted on in the House of Representatives
- Voice Vote - The Speaker of the House ask the Representative to either say "aye" if they support the bill or "no" if they oppose the bill.
- Division - The Speaker of the House first asks the Representatives to stand up and be counted if they support the bill and subsequently asks those who oppose the bill to stand up and be counted.
- Recorded - Each representative will record their vote using an electronic voting system. Possible responses are limited to "yes", "no", or "present" (if they want to withhold their vote).
If the vote indicates a majority of the Representatives are in favor of the bill, the bill officially passes in the House and is sent to the U.S Senate.
When a bill is passed by the House of Representatives, it is then referred to the Senate and undergoes a similar approval process. The Senate may approve the bill, reject it in its entirety, or propose changes.
Depending on the severity of amendments, if the Senate proposes changes, a bill is either returned to the chamber of origination for agreement, or for greater changes, a conference committee is created. The conference committee is formed to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate. If the conference committee fails to reach agreement, the legislation dies. If agreement is achieved, a conference report is drafted and forwarded to the both parts of the legislative branch for approval.
Senators vote on bills through the method of Voice Vote. If there is a majority of Senators who vote in favor of the bill, the bill officially passes the U.S Senate and is delivered to the Executive Branch, or more specifically, the President.
Once a bill has passed through both chambers of the Legislative Branch, it is delivered to the President for a final review. The President has three possible courses of action when receiving a bill.
- Sign the bill and officially turn the bill into a law.
- Veto, or refuse to sign, the bill. In a situation in which a President vetoes a bill, the bill along with the President's reasons for vetoing it is sent back to the House of Representatives and Senate. If the House and Senate still firmly believe that the bill should be a law, they can hold one last vote on the bill. If at least two-thirds of the Representatives and Senators vote in favor of the bill, the President's veto is denied and the bill becomes a law.
- Do nothing - if Congress is in session, the bill will automatically be approved and become a law after 10 days. If Congress is not is session, the bill is discarded an does not become a law.
- There is no legal difference between a bill and a joint resolution; both are executed in the same manner. A joint resolution, is a legislative measure that requires approval by the Senate and the House and is passed on to the President for decision. Additionally, joint resolutions have the same effect as bills, and are titled as "H. J. Res." or "S. J. Res." depending on chamber of origination. A joint resolution and bill may have the same number in the archives although they're technically different pieces of legislation.
- A simple resolution, is a legislative form used for matters that relate to an individual chamber of Congress; often to change the rules of the chamber, or organize a debate for a related bill. The resolution must be agreed to in the chamber of original proposal. A simple resolution is widely considered as a non-binding position because it does not result in the formation of a new law. Simple resolutions are often employed to adopt or change rules of procedures within the legislative body.