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.

The infographic can be used for a quick overview or refresher, and detailed descriptions are outlined in the text. You can find specifics about your state’s legislative process by clicking on the embedded link.

Bill becomes Law Chart

Anyone can write a bill, but in most states, only a member of the legislature can file and sponsor a bill. Sometimes bills are drafted by interest groups or constituents who present them to or work with a lawmaker sympathetic to their cause.

A legislator may also develop language for a bill by listening to his or her constituency and then work to solve the issue. Bill concepts also grow out of the recommendations of an interim study committees conducted when the legislature is not in session. These committees research ideas and problems to determine state laws that need 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. Advocates can also work with a legislator to craft specific legislative language that addresses their issue.

Tip: It may be helpful to look at statutory language in states that have enacted a program or policy similar to the one for which you are advocating. There’s no copyright on legislation, so ideas and language may be borrowed from another state that has enacted a policy or program of interest.


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 legislation is introduced advocates can take numerous actions to support or oppose a bill.

Advocates can:

  • Issue a press release;
  • Schedule an appointment to meet with their state legislator or an important committee chair;
  • Write a letter or email to your representatives or a local news source;
  • Attend committee hearings or town halls; and/or
  • Post a message on their website, Facebook or Twitter accounts applauding the bill’s introduction or pointing out the possible harm of unfavorable legislation.


Committees are of central importance to the state legislative process. In general, legislation is more thoroughly debated, and more likely to be significantly amended in committee than on the floor. Committee hearings are also the point in the legislative process where citizens are most likely to have the opportunity to voice public support for or concerns about legislation. 

The chair of each committee decides when the committee will meet and the bills that 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 recommend the bill for passage, recommend that the bill not be passed, amend the bill, table the bill for discussion at a later date or, in some states, recommend the bill be sent to an interim study committee. If a bill is not recommended for passage, it rarely moves to a full vote before the entire chamber (though leadership may pull the bill from committee and bring the bill up for a floor vote), and the bill is usually dead for the rest of 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. 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(s) of concern. If possible, it is also helpful to meet with committee chairs to discuss legislation, and where they stand on a particular issue. For committee hearings, advocates can prepare and submit oral and/or written testimony. It is always helpful to recruit fellow advocates or allies to show strong numbers during hearings on key legislation.

: Some states allow unscheduled testimony from the public, while others do not. If you’re interested in testifying, find out if your state allows unscheduled testimony from the floor. If it does not, contact the office of the committee chair, or a member of the committee who is sympathetic to your cause to inquire about testifying.


Presiding officers decide when a bill will be brought to the floor for debate or a vote. When a bill appears “on the calendar,” it is open to debate and amendment by the entire body (House or Senate). Following debate, the bill is called for a vote, and may be voted down or passed with or without an amendment(s) by a majority vote of the legislative body.

Getting Involved

Advocates can contact key legislators in advance of a floor vote and ask them to vote for or against a bill or to ask them to speak either in favor of or opposition to a bill.

Advocates may provide talking points for legislators who support their position.


Following passage by the chamber of origin, a bill will be sent to the second chamber where the steps from introduction to floor action will be repeated. (This occurs in all states, except Nebraska where the legislature is unicameral.)

The second chamber may decide not to hear the bill in committee, vote the bill down, amend the bill or pass the bill.
If the second chamber passes the bill without amendments, it is returned to the chamber of origin for engrossment and is then sent to the governor. If the second chamber amends the bill before passage, the bill will be returned to the chamber of origin for review of the amendments.

The chamber of origin may vote to concur with the amendments if a majority of members vote in favor of the bill as amended, or it can refuse to concur if a majority of members vote against concurrence. If the chamber of origin refuses to concur, the bill is either dead or the chamber of origin may request a conference committee.


Conference committees are formed when the two chambers disagree on the final version of a bill. These committees are comprised of members of each chamber who work to create compromise legislation that is likely to pass both chambers.

If conferees are able to reach an agreement, a new version of the legislation called a conference committee report is prepared. The report must be approved by the conferees and, once approved, is presented to each chamber for a vote. The report 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.

Advocates may also write to members of the conference committee about specific parts of a bill they support or oppose in an effort to keep or strike language from the final bill.


Upon receiving a bill, each governor has a certain number of days to sign, veto or, depending on the state, allow the bill to become law without a signature.

Veto laws vary by state, but if a governor vetoes a 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 legislature may override a governor’s veto if a certain vote threshold is met by each chamber.

The number of votes required to override a veto varies by statePDF and type of bill, but most frequently, states require a two-thirds majority vote to override a veto.

Getting Involved

If a governor seems hesitant to sign a bill or appears to be in favor of signing a bill that may have negative consequences, advocates may write letters, op-eds and/or issue a press release urging the governor to sign or veto the bill.

When a governor signs a bill, advocates may pack the bill signing ceremony, if one is held. If a governor vetoes a bill, advocates may issue a press release. Finally, advocates may also wish to give an award to the legislators or other elected officials who supported their work.

Identify your state’s governor
 and find out which issues are top priorities.