How a Bill Becomes a Law

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Part 1: How It Starts

An American federal law begins as an idea. Someone, somewhere has an idea for a law. That person tells someone else, who tells someone else, who tells someone else… It's nice to tell other people about what your idea for a law is, but only when you tell your congressperson do you really start the process rolling.

If your congressperson thinks that your idea has a good chance of becoming a law, then he or she promises to sponsor it. This means that he or she will support it and speak out in favor of it, in Congress and in public. Once your idea has support from a member of Congress, it's on the fast track to success.

First, your congressperson introduces your idea as a bill. The bill is sent to the right committee. (Example: If your idea has to do with farming, the bill will go to the Agriculture Committee.) The members of the committee discuss the bill and then vote on it. If they approve it, then the bill goes to the full house of Congress. (Note: A bill can begin in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. In our example, the bill begins in the House.)

So, your bill has been approved by the Agriculture Committee. It goes to the full House. All 435 members of the House discuss it, debate it, and then vote on it. One more than half of the members have to approve it. In the House, this is 218. If they approve it, then the bill goes to the other house of Congress, the Senate. If the House doesn't approve the bill, they may either send it back to the committee it came from or abandon it.

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David White