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How A Bill Becomes A Law

Below is just a general overview of the standard state legislative process. It can vary by state, so please check with your state and local organizations for more details about your state or visit your state legislature’s website to see if the information is available. Tribal governments have different processes based on their own systems and traditions. If you have questions about tribal policy reach out at [email protected] for help.

The legislative process begins when issues need to be addressed through legislation. These issues can be generated by constituents (like you!), special interest groups like the National Collaborative for Infants & Toddlers agencies, elected officials or the governor.

Advocates can impact the process throughout the legislative journey, starting with the idea for a bill.

Let’s walk through a state legislative session:

Introduction: A member of the legislature introduces a new piece of legislation in the form of a bill.

Reading: Once a bill is introduced, its title is read for its first reading in the chamber in which it’s introduced. Then it’s assigned to a committee. This is an essential step in the process, since which committee hears a bill can have a huge impact on whether the bill continues to move in the process.

Committee Consideration and Report: At this point, the bill may be voted out of committee favorably in its original form, favorably with amendments, with committee substitutes, or unfavorably. The bill may also be referred to another committee or a subcommittee. The committee process is a critical step in the life of a bill because the bill can be amended, or substitutes can be offered that could change the bill considerably. The committee can also halt the progress of the bill and “kill” it.

Second Reading: After passage out of committee and/or subcommittee, the bill is then brought to the floor of the chamber in which it was introduced, and a second reading is held. During this reading, members may debate, add amendments and/or vote to pass or not pass the bill.

Third Reading: The third reading allows for more debate and consideration of the bill before a vote is taken. Amendments can also be added. At the third reading, members take a final vote to decide on passage of the bill. Sometimes the third reading is held immediately after the second reading; at other times it is the next day or later.

Passage 1: If the bill passes the chamber in which it’s introduced, the bill is then sent to the other chamber for consideration and the process begins again. The other chamber holds the first reading of the bill the day after it receives the original bill. It’s then referred to committee in that chamber and the process starts over.

Passage 2: If the bill passes the second chamber in the same form it was introduced, it then is eligible for the governor’s signature. If it has been changed in any way (amendments or committee substitutes), the sponsoring house has a chance to concur with the changes. If the original chamber concurs, the bill is enrolled. If it does not concur, the two versions are sent to a conference committee to work out the differences.

Conference Committee: If the bill passed in the other chamber is a different version (has had amendments or a committee substitute), a conference committee is assembled from members of both chambers. This gives the members an opportunity to hammer out differences in the versions of the bill and adopt a Conference Committee report, the final wording of the legislation.

Conference Committee Report: Both chambers must vote on the final conference report. Usually there is not much debate at this stage since differences were ironed out in the committee.

Governor’s Signature: Bills that have passed the legislature then go to the governor for signature or veto. If the governor signs the bill, it becomes law and is enrolled. If the governor vetoes the bill, then the bill returns to the legislature for a veto override vote. In some cases, if the governor takes no action, the bill will automatically become law.

Enrollment: After it becomes law, the bill is printed in its final form and then sent to the secretary of state for inclusion in the Official Records and Printing.

It is a long process that can go very quickly, or in most cases pretty slowly. NCIT and its members can help you understand where in the process bills are at the local, state and federal level. Tribal governments have different processes based on their own systems and traditions. If you have questions about tribal policy reach out at [email protected] for help.

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