How a Bill Becomes a Law
The process of government by which bills are considered and laws enacted is commonly referred to as the legislative process. State legislatures are made up of two houses: the Senate and House of Representatives. The number of senators and representatives varies from state to state. A bill may be introduced in either house. The main steps in the process of a bill becoming a law are highlighted below.
Formulating Ideas: Ideas for legislation or “tentative” bill drafts may come from government, elected officials, businesses, lobbyists, and citizens; however, only members of state legislature can introduce legislation. By doing so that legislator becomes the bill’s sponsor.
Drafting the Bill: An attorney for the legislature will review the ideas proposed and prepare a formal draft of the bill according to certain legislative guidelines.
Introduction and First Reading: The bill is then submitted by a member of the Senate or Assembly, numbered and read for the first time, assigned to committee, and printed. A bill or resolution may be introduced in either the Senate or the Assembly and co-sponsors in the other house may be listed on the front of the measure. (The official legislative process begins when a bill is numbered and referred to the appropriate committee in the Senate and Assembly.)
Committee Action: When a bill reaches a committee, it is placed on the committee’s calendar. A bill can be referred to a subcommittee or considered by the committee as a whole. During this step, the bill is examined carefully and its chances for passage are determined. If the committee does not act on a bill, it is the equivalent of killing it.
Subcommittee Review: Bills are often referred to a subcommittee for study and hearings. Hearings provide the opportunity to put on the record the views of the executive branch, experts, other public officials, supporters and opponents. Testimony can be in person or submitted in writing.
Mark Up: When the hearings are completed, the subcommittee may meet to “mark up” the bill, that is, make changes and amendments prior to recommending the bill to the full committee. If a subcommittee votes not to report legislation to the full committee, the bill dies.
Committee Action to Report a Bill: After receiving a subcommittee’s report on a bill, the full committee can conduct further study and hearings, or it can vote on the subcommittee’s recommendations and any proposed amendments. The full committee then votes on its recommendation to the Assembly or Senate. This procedure is called “ordering a bill reported.”
Publication of a Written Report: After a committee votes to have a bill reported, the chair instructs staff to prepare a report on the bill. This report describes the intent and scope of the legislation, impact on existing laws and programs, position of the executive branch and views of dissenting members.