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A Kid's Guide to How A Bill Becomes a Law

Laws are very important because they keep the society functioning in an orderly manner. Without laws, the society will lose its discipline and objective, and this may jeopardize all the progress that human beings have made culturally, technologically, and morally. Also, criminal activities will be on the rise in the absence of law, and the world will no longer be a safe place to live in.

Beginning of a Bill

In the US, as well as other parts of the world, a law begins as an idea. This idea will become a bill when one congressperson tells another congressperson about it, and this will subsequently lead to the sponsorship of that idea by a group of congresspersons.

Introduction of a Bill

Those who sponsored the bill will promote it by praising it in the Congress as well as in public. After the bill is introduced, it will make its way to the relevant Committee. For example, if the bill is related to animal husbandry, it will be passed to the Agriculture Committee.

Committee Action

After a bill is introduced it is passed on to the corresponding Committee for debate and marks up the proposed bill. They may chose to make changes to the bill or not. The committee will vote on the bill to determine whether it should be approved or rejected. If the bill gets an approval from the Committee, it will be reported and forwarded to the House of the Congress.

Consideration on House Floor

There are a variety of ways in which a bill can come to the House Floor for consideration. Most bills are debated a practice known as the Committee of the Whole, which permits faster consideration. Members of the House of Representatives begin debating the bill. The Rules of the House dictate the conduct for the debate and special rules may be granted specifically for the bill that is under consideration. After the debate, the bill is read a second time, this time in a section-by-section approach, during which amendments may be suggested. When this is done, the bill is read for a third time and then finally, the House is ready to vote on the bill. Since there are 435 members in the House, at least 218 members need to vote for the bill

The Bill is Put to Vote

When the bill is ready to be voted on, it is read by title only. Members will vote to pass the bill (Yea) or not(Nay). They may also choose not to vote even though they were in session, in which case they will declare themselves “present.” Members of the House cast their vote electronically using the Electronic Voting System whereas members of the Senate vote by non-electronic means. If a majority of the House votes to pass a bill, it is then passed on to the Senate for a similar process.

The Bill is Referred to the Senate

Once a bill has been passed by the House, and passed on to the Senate for review, it is said to be “engrossed.” Once in the Senate, the bill may be sent to a committee for study or markup. Members of the Senate may choose to ignore the bill, vote in favor of the bill, or vote against the bill. If the bill passes the Senate with different language, the bill has to be sent for further review by a conference committee which is made up of members of both the House and Senate. Before the bill is sent to the president, any differences must be agreed upon.

Bill Sent To President

If the president finds the bill to be beneficial, he will sign the bill and convert it into a law. The president may decide to veto the bill if they think it is unwise or unnecessary. The president may take no action in which case the bill will automatically become law after ten days if Congress is in session. If Congress is not in session and the president has not yet taken action, the bill dies.

Veto Override

If the president decides to veto a bill, the bill returns to its House of origin. If enough members of the House disagree with the president's veto, a vote is taken to override the veto. If two-thirds of Congress vote to override the veto, the bill becomes a law.

For additional information on the lawmaking process, please refer to the following sites:

  • How Laws are Made?: Comprehensive explanation of the process of turning a bill into a law.
  • A Bill’s Journey: An interactive lesson that shows children how a bill is made into a law.
  • Making a Law: Stages that a bill has to go through in order to become a law.

("Legal information found on this page does not constitute legal advice.")

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