Skip to main content
University of Texas University of Texas Libraries

Government Documents & Information

How a Bill Becomes a Law

From a Bill to a Law

On its way to becoming a law, a bill follows a set of steps; the bill may be followed on that path. 

  • To help illustrate the legislative process, the Government Printing Office offers this flowchart.
  • Congress.gov provides this video
  • From School House Rock and thanks to YouTube, an old-favorite version of the journey is offered here.

 

Here Is a description of the steps: 

 

Bills

Either a member of the House of Representatives or of the Senate may introduce a bill --- though certain bills including those for raising revenue, must originate in the House. The bill is first announced in the Congressional RecordHere you may find the bill number, the person who introduced it, the committee to which the bill was referred, and the stated intent of the bill. 

 

Hearings

After a bill is introduced, it is referred to a committee. Committee members may decline to consider the bill, or report unfavorably on it; if so, the bill dies. If members decide the bill has merit, they hold hearings on the bill. Hearings transcripts are usually published two months to two years after the hearings are held.

 

Reports

After hearings, committee members issue their report on the bill.  The report contains the bill (perhaps now with revised text), the committee's recommendations, and background information on the bill.

 

Proceedings/Debates

After a committee recommends passage of a bill, it goes to the full House or Senate for consideration --- known as "floor action." These proceedings and debates can be found in the Congressional Record, which is issued daily when Congress is in session. These daily issues of the Congressional Record are indexed in the Congressional Record Index (CRI).  The CRI indexes individuals, organizations, and topics.  Use the History of Bills to find legislative action on bills.

If the full House or Senate approves the bill, the bill, with any amendments, is sent to the other chamber. The bill is assigned to a committee.  Committee members may table the bill for which will either table the bill, stopping the bill from further action, or release it to the full chamber for consideration.

 

Voting Records

If both houses of Congress approve the bill, but that the versions vary, members of the two chambers meet to work out any differences between the versions.  The revised bill must then be considered in both the House and Senate. The text of a final bill that passes both houses is called the "enrolled" version. To see which members of Congress participated in a vote and how they voted, consult Roll Call Votes by the U.S. Congress or "Vote Reports" in Proquest Congressional Digital Bills and Resolutions.

 

Presidential Action

Once passed by Congress, a bill goes to the President, who may sign it, veto it, or ignore it.  With a presidential signature, a bill becomes a law. If vetoed, a bill may go back to Congress to be amended or put to Congress for a vote to override the veto with a 2/3 majority vote.  When a President does not sign a bill but also does not veto it nor return it to Congress within ten days, the bill becomes a law.  If Congress adjourns before the end of the ten-day period, the bill receives an automatic veto in an action known as a “pocket veto”. The Compilation of Presidential Documents and Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States are two sources for checking on how a bill was handled at the presidential level.

 

Public Law

Once the bill has become a law, it is assigned a "public law" number.  With a bill number, the public law number may be located in the "Public laws" section of Congress.gov. That leads to the text of the law and to other information about the law.  Congress.gov also has information on "private bills" which are assigned a "private law" number when passed into law.  Private bills and laws concern a single individual or organization (although not corporations) and not to the general public. 

 

Published Laws

A new law when first printed is called a "slip law".  Slip laws are compiled into a set called Statutes at Large.  These laws are incorporated (in the sense of gaining context and updating past law) every six years --- with supplements in between --- into the U.S. Code, which is a codification of all "general and permanent laws of the United States."  The U.S. Code is arranged by subject, and shows the present status of laws that have been amended.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.