The intended purpose of Legislature functions is to create laws that represent the best interests of the citizens within each legislative district. Proposals for new laws are called bills. To become a law, a bill must successfully pass through a number of steps. The following is each general step in the lifecycle of a bill,
The process may vary slightly per state or at the federal level. To find out exactly how it works in your state, visit your state legislature’s official website. Most of them include explanations of the law-making process. (Note: Laws like the Controlled Substances Act allow federal law enforcement agencies, like the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to unconstitutionally circumvent this process).
Lifecycle of a Bill
All legislation begins as an idea. Ideas can come from anyone. The process begins when someone persuades a senator or elected state representative to author a bill.
A legislator, who acts as the author, sends the idea and language for the bill to the Legislative Counsel where it is drafted into the actual bill. The drafted bill is returned to the legislator for introduction.
- First Reading
A bill's first reading is when the clerk reads the bill number, the name of the author, and the descriptive title of the bill. The bill is then sent electronically to the Office of State Printing. In general, bill must be in print for only 30 days, giving time for public review, before it can be acted on.
- Committee Hearings
The bill then goes to the Senate or House Rules Committee where it is assigned to the appropriate policy committee for its first hearing. Bills are assigned according to subject area. During the hearing the author presents the bill, people testify in support or opposition of the bill, and the committee acts on the bill. The committee can pass the bill, pass the bill as amended, or defeat the bill. It takes a majority vote of the membership of the committee to pass a bill.
NOTE: Usually, bills that require money must also be heard in the Fiscal Committee, Senate and Assembly Appropriations, but many legislators sidestep this by claiming the bill will have no fiscal impact.
Bills passed by committees are read a second time in the house of origin and then placed in the Daily File for a third reading.
- Third Reading
When a bill is read the third time, it is explained by the author, discussed by the members, and voted on by a rollcall vote. Once the house of origin approves the bill it proceeds to the other house where steps 1-5 are repeated.
NOTE: Many Legislators sidestep this process by convincing the other side of the house to launch the process for a companion bill at the same time, so that both sides of the house run the process concurrently. This companion bill process significantly decreases the amount of time that the public has to react and oppose the bill.
If a bill is amended in the second house, it must go back to the house of origin for concurrence, which is agreement on the amendments. If agreement cannot be reached, the bill moves to a two-house conference committee to resolve differences. Three members of the committee are from the Senate and three are from the Assembly. If a compromise is reached, the conference report is voted upon in both houses.
- Governor / President Signoff
The bill then goes to the Governor or President, who has three choices. He or she can sign the bill into law, allow it to become law without his or her signature, or veto it. A veto can generally be overridden by a two-thirds vote in both houses.