When a member of Congress, either from the House of Representatives or Senate, decides that something needs to become a law, they begin working on a long process that, at the end, results in either a law signed by the president of the United States, or it dies at some point in the legislative process. Many adults who were children and teens in the 1970s remember the Schoolhouse Rock series that was aired on Saturday mornings. One of the clips was about the Constitution and how a bill becomes a law. The process detailing how a bill becomes a law is well described in this cartoon.
What is a Bill?
If a senator or representative creates a proposal based on their own belief or as a result of an encounter with a constituent, the proposal is known as a bill. The bill discusses the problem seen by the congressperson, then proposes a solution intended to correct the perceived problem. The congressperson hopes that their solution will be signed into law by the president.
When a bill comes out of the House of Representatives, it will have a number that begins with “H.R.,” to stand for House of Representatives. If it comes from the Senate, that number begins with S, to denote that it is a Senate bill, according to About Money.
How Does a Bill Become Law?
You may need to learn about how a bill becomes a law for kids. A member of Congress, which is the House of Representatives or Senate, has to propose a bill, which is an idea intended to make life easier for people living within the United States. Each bill has at least 10 steps to go through before it arrives on the president’s desk for his consideration. Beginning with the first step, these are:
º Congressperson writes the bill up. Citizens can make suggestions by contacting their representatives, who think about their constituent’s idea. If the congressperson believes it’s a good idea, they start researching the issues and ideas, then write them into the form of a bill.
º The congressperson asks their colleagues to sponsor their bill, according to Kids Clerk. If other congresspersons believe the bill is a good idea, they can “sponsor” the bill by signing onto it. The more congresspeople sponsor the bill, the better chance it has of passing and being sent to the White House for the president’s consideration.
º Once a bill has several sponsors, it is time to introduce it to the House of Representatives. Bills can only be introduced in the House. After introduction, the bill clerk gives it an identifying number beginning with H.R.
º Bills that make it this far are sent to the appropriate committee. Here, groups of representatives begin working on the bill to see how realistic it is. They research the issues, review the bill as it is written and make any revisions needed before voting to send it back to the House floor. Sometimes, members of the committee may want to get additional information before they decide whether to send the bill back to the House. Here, it may go to a subcommittee, where it is looked at even more closely. Expert opinions are obtained so that the House can decide whether to send the bill to the Senate or not.
º The bill is reported once it is approved. This means it is sent back to the House floor, where the full House debates it.
º Debate. All representatives talk about the bill and explain their reasons for supporting or not supporting it. Here, a reading clerk reads each section of the bill so representatives can ask for changes. After all changes have been made, the bill can be voted on.
º The House of Representatives can vote on a bill in one of three ways:
º Viva Voce or voice vote. Those who support the bill say “aye.” Those who don’t support it say “no.”
º The Speaker of the House needs to see who supports the bill and who opposes it. They will ask for everyone supporting the bill to stand and be counted. They do the same for those who oppose the bill. This process is known as “division.”
º A bill can be electronically recorded. Representatives vote either yes, no or present. Voting present simply notes that the representative is present – they have not voted yes or no on this bill.
As you go over these steps, keep in mind that this process can include some additional steps as an individual bill is considered. Still, it’s a basic overview of how a bill becomes law.
Steps on How a Bill Becomes a Law
Students in middle school and high school may go into additional detail about bill-making. As your teacher discusses “how a bill becomes a law steps,” you’re going to add some new information to your learning. This includes:
º Types of bills. These include private bills, which affect only members of a specific group. Public bills affect the general population of the U.S., according to Kids Clerk.
º Concurrent resolution. These are bills that deal with a matter that affect how the Senate and House of Representatives function. Both the House and Senate vote on passage of a concurrent resolution. Once passed, it does not need the president’s signature to become law.
º Joint resolution. This document is like a bill and can come out of either the House or Senate. It cannot come out of both Chambers, no matter that it’s called a “joint” resolution. This document does require the president’s approval and signature to become a law.
º Simple resolution. This final bill form can come from either Chamber and, if passed, it will affect only the Chamber that introduced it.
º All bills regarding revenue (money raised for government’s operation) must be raised in the House of Representatives.
When a bill is introduced in the House, it is inserted into a special wooden box named the “hopper.” This box sits next to the House Clerk’s desk.
As a bill is being considered and discussed in the House, every member of the House has a chance to propose amendments to that bill. The House votes on how much time will be allowed for debate. During this time, the bill is read by section, giving House members the opportunity to comment on the bill and propose their amendments, if they choose to do so.
Once a bill has been debated, it is sent to the appropriate committee for additional research. Because of the number of bills that are introduced, not every bill makes it out of committee. Most bills “die,” or are not returned to the house for rule debate or a vote. A bill can die in one of two ways:
º Table. The bill is set aside for further discussion and never returned to again.
º Pigeonholing. This means the bill is set aside in a cubbyhole. While this isn’t exactly what happens. Instead, the bill is simply not assigned for further research or discussion. It dies.
If the bill does make it out of committee, it will be amended or voted on for further passage. If it passes through its committee, it proceeds over to the Rules committee, which determines the rules for debate. Each bill can be debated under a different set of rules, according to Scholastic.
Once a bill exits the Rules Committee, it returns to the House for additional debate. If more House members vote for the bill than against it, the bill moves over to the Senate for consideration.
In the Senate, the bill is introduced by a senator and it is sent to a Senate committee. Just as in the House, the bill is discussed and researched. If a majority of the Senate committee votes to pass the bill, it returns to the Senate for a vote.
º Call Up. The Senate Majority Leader sets the date for consideration of the bill, where it is debated. As in the House, individual senators can add amendments to the bill. If the bill passes with a majority vote in the Senate, it goes back to the House.
º Conference Committee. If the House doesn’t like any of the changes the Senate has made to the bill, it goes to conference committee, where members of the House and Senate discuss compromises for the bill.
º Both Houses have to approve the changes made in the conference committee. Once the bill’s changes have been approved, the final version is sent to the White House for the president’s consideration.
º The president has two choices. He can veto or reject the bill or he can sign the bill, passing it into law.
º If a bill has been vetoed, both Houses can override the veto. Two-thirds of both Houses have to vote for the override to pass.
As you are studying, you have to answer the question, “how does a bill become a law.” This process was created as the first Congress was discussing how laws should be passed. This process has survived for well over two hundred years.