How a Bill Becomes a Law

Wondering how Federal and State laws are made? Did you learn about the legislative process in school, but need a refresher? This page is designed to give you the basics.


Many people complain that the legislative process is too slow. While this may seem true, it should be noted that the framers of our constitution deliberately devised a system of checks and balances to ensure a thorough and deliberative process. The result is a process that protects against fast, sweeping changes - or a revolution.

The legislative process begins with an idea and these ideas come from the people. Whether a particular idea arises from constituents, representatives of industry, or other interest groups, they are important resources for legislators. These ideas are the basis of our laws.

Anyone may draft a bill, but only members of Congress and state legislators can introduce bills, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions, and simple resolutions, and by doing so, they become the sponsors. The official legislative process begins when a bill or resolution is numbered, referred to a committee, and printed by the Government Printing Office. At the beginning of the bill, "H.R." signifies a House bill and "S." a Senate Bill.

Once a bill or resolution is numbered it is sent to committee where it is reviewed, researched, and revised before it is approved to return to the House floor. If more discussion on the legislation is needed the bill will be sent to a subcommittee. Often bills die in committee never making it to the House floor for a vote.

When a bill reaches the House floor it is then debated by Members of Congress who agree or disagree with the legislation. After passing on the House floor a bill is then referred to the Senate where it undergoes many of the same legislative procedures as within the House of Representatives. The bill is discussed in Senate committee and then sent to the Senate floor for a vote.

If a bill is passed in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and has been approved by the President of the United states, or if a presidential veto has been overridden, the bill becomes a law.