How Does a Bill Become a Law?

Any member of Congress can introduce a bill for consideration by either the House or the Senate. By doing so, the representative or senator becomes the “sponsor” of the legislation. The introduction of legislation begins the slow process toward the actual enactment of the laws. 

Most legislative proposals take the form of bills designated as H.R. for bills introduced to the House of Representatives or S. for bills introduced in the Senate. When you go on the DBSA Legislative Action Center’s Capwiz system, you’ll see the same bill twice. A house version with an HR in front of the bill number and also another version for the Senate with an S in front of the number. 

The House and the Senate each have their own individual rules of procedure. Legislation can be introduced any time in the senate. But in the House, the legislative agenda is tightly controlled by the Speaker of the House, the presiding officer over the House of Representatives.

Now both houses (the House of Rep. and the Senate) have committees to allow members to break up in smaller groups and look at the legislation in more depth. Each member of Congress (and when I say Congress I’m talking about both the House and the Senate) is assigned to one or more committees. Most of the work of Congress is done within these committees and the subcommittees of these committees. 

Here is where many bills fall by the wayside it is very rare for a bill to reach the floor of the House or Senate without being approved by a committee. When considering a bill, the committee usually holds hearing where it hears testimony from those supporting the bill and those opposing the bill. 

After the hearings are completed, the committee will hold what is called a “markup” of the legislation. This is when committee members can propose amendment or change to the bill. And then the bill is voted on by the committee and/or subcommittee.

Now reaching the floor of the House or Senate usually presents another bottleneck. Legislation can die while waiting to be scheduled for consideration. Okay now it’s passed in either the House or Senate are we through? No if it was passed in the house it now goes through the same process in the senate and vice-versa.

Once the bill is passed in both the house and the senate, if is sent to the President for consideration. If it isn’t signed within 10 days, the bill becomes law without the President’s signature. The president can also veto a bill and return it. When the presidential signature is obtained the new law is assigned a number. It is sent to executive departments and regulators and then finally becomes a law!

How a Bill Becomes a Law (pdf)