How a Bill Becomes a Law
The following represents the typical procedure for transforming a bill into law; however, there is some variation in the legislative process from state to state. The steps below describe the passage of general bills (not resolutions). The procedures for local bills or budget bills are different.
Every state legislature has a website with information about the legislative process in the state. Consult your state legislature’s website for additional procedural guidance. View a list of state legislature websites.
A legislator may develop an idea for a bill by listening to his or her constituency and then working to solve the issue. A bill concept may also grow out of the recommendations of an interim committee study conducted when the legislature is not in session. The idea is researched to determine what state law needs to be changed or created to best solve that problem.
Getting Involved: Advocates can visit a legislator and request that a bill be drafted to fund services, address a problem, or change a policy.
A legislator may introduce a bill in the body of which he or she is a member by filing it with the appropriate clerk. A bill is given a caption/title and number. The bill number allows the legislator and the public to track the progress of the bill.
After a bill has been introduced, a short description of the bill is read aloud while the chamber is in session so that all members are aware of the bill and its subject. This is called the first reading, and it is the point in the process where the presiding officer assigns the bill to a committee(s). This committee assignment is announced on the chamber floor during the first reading of the bill. In some states, bills are assigned to several committees.
Getting Involved: When favorable legislation is introduced, advocates can issue a press release, write a letter and/or post a message on their website, Facebook or Twitter accounts applauding the bill’s introduction.
The chair of each committee decides when the committee will meet and which bills will be considered. The committee process allows an idea to be thoroughly discussed and debated by the legislators, the public and those who will be directly impacted by the bill.
Committees have several options when considering a bill. They can approve the bill, defeat the bill or choose to amend the bill. If a bill is defeated in committee, that bill is generally dead for the rest of that session.
Committee chairs and ranking members play a key role in the legislative process and should be targeted in advocacy efforts, even when they do not represent your district. Information regarding standing committees and subcommittee membership can be found on your legislature’s website. View a list of state legislature websites.Once the bill has passed each of the committees to which it was referred, it is available to be voted on by the entire body of members.
Getting Involved: Advocates can write to committee members and encourage a hearing on a bill or bills that are important to them. For committee hearings, advocates can prepare oral and/or written testimony. It is always helpful to recruit fellow advocates or allies to show strong numbers during hearings on key legislation.
On the day a bill appears “on the calendar,” it is open to debate and amendment by the entire body considering it (House or Senate). The bill is then called up for passage, and after being considered the third time and debated, it may be passed with or without amendment by a majority of the members to which the body is entitled.
Getting Involved: Advocates can contact key legislators in advance of a floor vote to ask them to speak either in favor of or in opposition to a bill. Advocates may provide talking points for legislators who support their position.
Bill is Engrossed
The bill, now having been passed by the originating chamber, then goes to the office of the clerk where it is retyped, without errors or erasures, and is transmitted to the other chamber for consideration. The bill is "engrossed" by reproducing it with all the amendments inserted in the proper places.
The other chamber then goes through a similar process of considering the bill.
Bill is Enrolled
After being passed by both chambers, the bill is enrolled, meaning retyped, without errors or erasures, by the clerk in the chamber of origin. This step involves preparing the bill in the exact form passed by both houses.
Conference Committee Process
If a bill is returned to the originating chamber with amendments, the originating chamber can either agree to the amendments or disagree and request a conference committee to work out differences between the house version and the senate version. If the amendments are agreed to, the bill is put in final form and sent to the governor. If not, conferees are assigned, often comprised of an equal number of legislators from both chambers. Once the conference committee reaches agreement, a conference committee report is prepared and must be approved by the conferees. Conference committee reports are voted on in each chamber and must be approved or rejected without amendment. If approved by both chambers, the bill is sent to the governor.
Getting Involved: Advocates may ask legislative leadership to appoint friendly legislators to the conference committee.
Upon receiving a bill, the governor has a certain number of days in which to sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without a signature. If the governor vetoes the bill and the legislature is still in session, the bill is returned to the chamber from which it originated with an explanation of the governor’s objections. A certain number of votes are required by each chamber to override a governor’s veto.
Identify your state’s governor and find out which issues are top priorities.
If a governor seems hesitant about signing a bill, advocates may write letters, op-eds and/or issue a press release urging the governor to sign the bill. When a governor signs a bill, advocates may issue a press release and pack the bill signing ceremony, if one is held. Finally, advocates may also wish to give an award to the legislators or other elected officials who supported their work.
To identify your state’s governor and find out which issues are top priorities