The U.S. Congress is the legislative branch of the government whose function is to create laws. It consists of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, both of which have to approve a bill before the President can sign it into law.
How does a bill become a law? Here’s everything you need to know about the process.
How a Bill Becomes a Law: The Step-by-Step Process
First off, what branch of government makes laws? The short answer is – the Legislative branch, which is made up of the House and the Senate, which are collectively known as Congress.
The function of the Executive branch is to enforce those laws, while that of the Judicial arm is to interpret them. That being said, here’s a detailed breakdown of how laws are made.
Step 1: Conception of an Idea
Every law begins its lifecycle as an idea. Anybody can come up with it. When they do, the next step involves getting in touch with their respective representative in Congress to share it with them. If they (the representative) like it, they can then kick start the legislative process.
It involves lots of research before writing up the proposed law, also known as a bill. Once the representative drafts the bill, they then engage with their fellow representatives to get them to sponsor it so that it can be introduced in the House or the Senate.
Step 2: Introduction of the Bill
The next phase involves introducing the bill to Congress. This process begins in the House, where representatives introduce bills by placing them inside a box on the desk of the House clerk. The clerk assigns a reference number to the bill with the prefix “H.R.” They then read the bill to all the representatives in the House before sending it to a House committee.
Senators can also introduce bills to the Senate in the same way that House representatives do, only that in this case, the bill number has the prefix “S.”
Step 3: Committee Action
A committee is then set up to analyze the bill based on its subject matter.
In most cases, the bill will be referred to one of the sub-committees, who may then:
- Request government agencies to furnish them with relevant reports
- Hold hearings with experts and any interested parties to provide testimony on the issues highlighted by the bill
- Based on the insight they obtain, they can then use this information to revise or “mark-up” the bill
- Report the bill to the full committee for further consideration
At this point, based on the insight provided by the subcommittee, the full committee may make a recommendation to:
- Release the bill, i.e., reporting the bill out of committee
- Lay the bill aside, i.e., table it
- Revise the bill
- Pass the bill
Upon committee approval, it then goes to the floor to be debated by all the lawmakers.
Step 4: Floor Action
At this stage, the bill goes back to the full House or Senate so that the House representatives or Senators can debate it further before approval. They may propose certain changes to it by adding additional text or altering the existing clauses.
During a debate, the representatives explain their stance on the bill and their reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with it. The duration of a debate varies depending on the level of opposition in the House or Senate.
Once the debate concludes, the clerk then reads each section of the bill as the representatives make the necessary changes to it.
Step 5: Voting Action
The members of the House and Senate then vote on the respective versions of the proposed bill.
Voting takes place in any of the following three ways:
- A voice vote where the House Speaker or the Senate’s Presiding Officer asks those in favor of the proposed bill to say “aye” and those against it to say “no.”
- A division vote where the groups in support of and those against the proposed bill are each asked to stand for a headcount;
- A recorded vote where every individual is required to cast a ballot with their name on it to allow the public to see how they voted; The House uses an electronic voting system to do this while the Senate does this by roll call.
Step 6: Conference Committees
Before a bill can advance to the next stage, it needs approval from both chambers of Congress. When the Senate amends and approves a bill or a version of it that has already been passed by the House, or vice versa, a conference committee is then set up to resolve any legislative differences that there may be between the two versions of the bill. This is done through bargaining and negotiation until they reach a final compromise.
Step 7: Presidential Approval
This step addresses the question – Who signs bills to become laws? The short answer is – the President of the United States. After both Chambers pass the bill, it is sent to the President for final approval.
The President can either sign the bill to make it a Public Law or reject it through a veto. If a bill is vetoed, it goes back to Congress for further reconsideration. If the President fails to sign the bill within 10 days of receiving it, it automatically becomes law.
Step 8: The Creation of a Law
The Public Law is then assigned a number with the prefix “P.L.” by the Federal Register Office before the Government Printing Office prints it. The law can be issued in the form of a single publication or slip form. It is then organized in the order it was passed before being codified by subject matter.
Is an Executive Order a Law?
No, it is not. An executive order is a written, signed, and published directive from the President that targets the operations of the federal government. It has the force law, doesn’t require any Congressional intervention, and cannot be overturned.
What Is Common Law?
This is a collection of unwritten rules based on different sets of legal precedent derived from judicial decisions and related quasi-judicial tribunals.
Who Makes Federal Laws?
The U.S. Congress is the legislative arm of the government that makes federal laws. It is made up of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
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