Legislative Process

A. Legislation is Introduced – Any member can introduce a piece of legislation. 

A bill or resolution is:

  • Introduced in either chamber,
  • Assigned a number,
  • Labeled with the sponsor’s name, and
  • Sent to the Government Printing Office (GPO) where copies are made


  • Senate bills can be jointly sponsored.
  • Members can co-sponsor the legislation

B. Committee Action – The bill is referred to the appropriate committee by the Speaker of the House or the presiding officer in the Senate (usually referral decision is made by the House or Senate parliamentarian).  Bills may be referred to more than one committee, and it may be split so that parts are sent to different committees.  The  Bills are placed on the calendar of the committee to which they have been assigned.  Failure to act on a bill is the equivalent of killing it. 

Special House Procedures:
Speaker of the House may set time limits on committees.
Bills with no proper committee vote can only be released from committee by a discharge petition.

Committee Steps:

  1. Comments about the bill’s merits are requested by government agencies.
  2. Bill can be assigned to a subcommittee by the chairman of committee.
  3. Hearings may be held.
  4. If sent to a subcommittee, findings are reported to the full committee.
  5. Finally, there is a vote by the full committee and the bill is “ordered to be reported.”    
  6. A committee will hold a “mark-up” session during which it will makes revisions and additions. If substantial amendments are made, the committee can order the introduction of a “clean bill” with the proposed amendments.  This new bill will have a new number and will be sent to the floor while the old bill is discarded.  All amendments must be approved by the full chamber before conducting a final passage vote on the bill.
  7. After the bill is reported from the committee, the committee staff prepares a written report explaining why they favor the bill and why they wish to see their amendments, if any, adopted.  Committee members who oppose a bill sometimes write a dissenting opinion in the report. 
  8. The report is then sent to the full chamber and is placed on the calendar.
  9. In the House, most bills go to the Rules Committee before reaching the floor where the committee adopts rules that will govern the procedures under which the bill will be considered by the House.  A “closed rule” sets strict time limits on debate and forbids the introduction of amendments.  These rules can have a major impact on whether the bill passes.  The rules committee can be bypassed in three ways: 1) members can move rules to be suspended (requires 2/3 vote), 2) a discharge petition can be filed, or 3) the House can use the Calendar Wednesday procedure.  

C. Floor Action

      1. Legislation is placed on the calendar

  • House: Bills are placed on one of four House Calendars.  They are usually placed on the calendars in the order they are reported, yet they don’t usually come to the floor in this order – some bills may never reach the floor at all.  The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader decide what will reach the floor and when.  (Legislation can also be brought to the floor by a discharge petition.)

  • Senate: Bills are placed on the Legislative Calendar.  Scheduling of legislation is the job of the Majority Leader.  Bills can be brought to the floor whenever a majority of the Senate chooses.

      2. Debate

  • House: The Committee of the Whole debates and amends the bill but cannot technically pass it.   After debate, the bill is reported back to the House (to itself) and is voted on. There is a quorum call to make sure that there are enough members present (218) to have a final vote.  If not, the House will adjourn or will round up missing members.

     3. Vote - The bill is voted on: 

  • If passed: Sent to the other chamber unless that chamber already has a similar measure under consideration. 

  • If not passed - bill dies. 

     4. Other Chamber

  • If House and Senate pass the same bill - Sent to the President. 

  • If the House and Senate pass different bills - Sent to a Conference Committee (most major legislation does). 

  • If other chamber does NOT pass bill - Bill dies.

   5. Conference Committee

  • Members from each chamber form a conference committee and meet to work out the differences (usually senior members appointed by the original committees). 
  • Each side works to maintain their version of the bill. 
  • If the Conference Committee reaches a compromise - written conference report is submitted to each chamber.
  • The conference report must be approved by both the House and Senate.

    6.  President – The bill is sent to the President for review.

  • Sign into Law - Bill becomes law.

  • No Action (within 10 and Congress is in session) - bill becomes law. 

  • No action (Congress adjourns before the 10 days) - Does not become law (“pocket veto”). 

  • Veto - Sent back to Congress with a note listing the reasons.  The chamber that the bill originated in can attempt to override the veto by a vote of 2/3 of those present.  If the veto of the bill is overridden in both chambers then it becomes law.

    7. Bill Becomes a Law – Once a bill is signed by the President or the veto is overridden by both chambers, it becomes a law and is assigned an official number.