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How a bill becomes a law

The clouds have grayed, there’s a chill in the air, and you’ve started layering like nobody’s business. This can only mean one thing: The 2013 Legislative Session is underway! It’s that special time of year when bills are introduced, caucuses are formed, and laws are made (or not). It is true democracy in action!

But how does a bill become a law, anyway?

  • First, a legislator from the House or the Senate offers a bill. Legislators begin working on the idea and language for bills before the session begins. Bills can start being dropped into the hopper (submitted) as soon as the legislative session begins in January and have until Cutoff Day to be dropped. Similar bills can be introduced in both the House and the Senate.
  • After a bill is introduced, it is decided which committee should hear the bill. Once in committee, it has its first reading. The chair of the committee decides if and when a bill will be allowed a public hearing. The public hearing is where members of the public can express their support for or opposition to a bill to committee members. The committee chair also decides if the bill will be read in Executive Session and put to a vote in the committee. If the votes are in the bill’s favor, it goes to the Rules Committee, where leadership decides if a bill meets the legal criteria to move on in the process.
  • If all goes well in the Rules Committee, the bill goes to the floor for a roll call vote.
  • Depending on which chamber the bill originated from (the House or the Senate) it is then sent to the other chamber and must go through the process again. If the House or the Senate want to tweak the bill, it is first sent to a conference committee and then back to the House or Senate to have amendments approved.
  • If the majority of legislators vote in favor of the bill, it is sent to the governor’s office to be signed. The governor may decide to sign the bill, veto sections of it, or veto the bill all together.
  • Once the governor signs the bill, it becomes a law.

It is important to note that although this is the ideal procedure for a bill to become a law, there are many exceptions and paths a bill can take along the way. Some alternate routes include rewriting the bill and attaching to a separate bill as an amendment or “carryover” which allows the issue to be taken up again in a subsequent session.

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