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How a bill becomes a law
Your involvement in the bill process is essential to getting lawmakers to craft legislation that reflects your views. The earlier you get involved in the process, the better.

How a bill becomes law may at times seem confusing. The bill process, however, is quite simple to follow once you know the basics. The process is virtually the same in state legislatures from Boise to Boston. Here’s how it works.

Idea developed
A legislator decides to sponsor a bill, which either changes the current law, adds new law or deletes existing law, sometimes at the suggestion of a constituent, interest group, public official or the governor. The lawmaker may ask other legislators in the same chamber to join as co-sponsors.

Bill drafted
At the legislator’s direction, an office of legislative services provides research and drafting assistance, and prepares the bill in proper technical form.

Bill introduced
The legislator gives the bill to the clerk’s office, and the bill’s title is read aloud. This is known as the first reading. The bill is then referred to an appropriate committee.

Committee action
The members of the committee consider the bill and decide what action to take. The committee may amend, hold, table, substitute or make a favorable recommendation on the bill. The committee can also hold public hearings on the proposal.

Floor action
The bill’s title is read aloud before the entire body. This is called the second reading. The bill is then debated in open session. During floor debate, the measure can be amended or substituted. It is then given a third reading and voted on. If passed, it heads to the other chamber – either the House of Representatives or the Senate – where the process is repeated.

Conference committee
If the bill is amended while in the second chamber and the chamber of origin disagrees with the amendment, a conference committee may be formed to resolve differences.

Enrollment
After being passed in identical form by both chambers, the bill is printed as an enrolled bill, examined and signed by the presiding officer of each chamber.

Governor’s action
The bill is then sent to the governor. The governor can sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

 

Q&A

How many votes by lawmakers does it take to override a governor’s veto?
Most states require a two-thirds majority to override the governor; others require a three-fifths or simple majority.

What’s a ‘pocket veto’?
A pocket veto occurs when the governor fails to take action on a bill within a certain amount of time after the session has ended. However, in some states, if the governor fails to take action on a bill, it automatically becomes law.

How can a bill carry over to the next year?
About half of all states have two-year, or “biennial” sessions. In that type of schedule, if a bill hasn’t been signed into law or defeated at the end of the first year, it can be re-submitted for discussion the following year.

Why do some states have ‘companion’ bills?
Some state legislatures require that a House or Senate bill be introduced with a companion in the other chamber. This enables both chambers to discuss a motion simultaneously. These can also be referred to as duplicate or identical bills.