(Daily360.com) – As society evolves and changes, so, too, must the laws that govern it. New laws address emerging concerns, while old laws may be struck down or adjusted. This ability to evolve is vitally important; it ensures the legal system always serves the needs of the people, no matter how times change. Here’s how it happens.
Step One: Creating a Bill
Changes to the law almost always begin as ideas. These may come from everyday citizens, advocacy groups, lobbyists, or even politicians. If at least one person from the House of Representatives or Senate believes it has merit, he or she can write a bill and put it forth for consideration under the legislative process. The representative becomes the bill’s “sponsor.”
Step Two: Introducing the Bill
Next, the sponsor introduces the bill. Exactly where the introduction happens depends on the sponsor’s role in Congress. If he or she belongs to the House of Representatives, they’ll introduce the bill to the House first. If, on the other hand, he or she is a Senator, it gets introduced in the Senate instead. Congress will then list it as officially under review on Congress.gov.
Step Three: The Committee
Regardless of where it happens, all bills are assigned to a committee after introduction. This group is typically made up of people who have some level of expertise or interest in the area of law the proposal focuses on (e.g., health or criminal law). It’s then investigated, examined, and evaluated to determine how likely it is to pass Congress.
The committee’s exact process for investigating a bill’s legitimacy varies. They may require little to no deliberation for relatively straightforward proposals (e.g., a bill to correct a spelling mistake in a law). If the bill is extremely complex, hotly contested, or considered high-risk in some way, the committee may ask for debates or hearings with expert testimony instead. At this point, they may also decline to act on the bill, rendering it “dead.”
Step Four: The Subcommittee
If the main committee approves the bill, a second subcommittee of experts steps in. Their job is to determine whether the bill requires amendments, adjustments, or changes before it can be approved. Subcommittees may decline to act on the proposal, rendering it dead, or they can make minor adjustments and recommend it to the floor instead.
Step Five: The Floor
Bills that reach the “floor,” — either the full Senate or the full House, depending on who sponsored the bill — undergo a second round of debate and evaluation by the entire chamber. Members then vote to determine support for the proposal and any associated amendments. If the vote succeeds, the bill moves to the opposite chamber for further evaluation there.
Step Six: The Second Evaluation
The second chamber follows the exact same procedure as the first when deliberating over the bill: introduction, review by the main and subcommittees, recommendation to the floor, and a final vote to assess support. Once again, the bill can fail to move forward at any one of these steps, rendering it dead in the water. Otherwise, the second chamber may opt to approve the proposal as-is, or they can recommend and make amendments to the language within it.
Step Seven: The Conference Committee
Sometimes, there are differences between what the House and the Senate want. For example, one side may wish to remove a section entirely, believing it in violation of the Constitution, while the other might entirely disagree. Congress can come together and request mediation via a conference committee. The end goal, of course, is to find a resolution both sides can accept, but this doesn’t always happen. It’s still possible for bills to die at this step.
If both the Senate and the House do manage to agree on the terms of the bill, the last step is a vote involving all of Congress. If it passes, it moves to the President for final approval.
Step Eight: The President
Once a law reaches the White House desk, one of two paths are possible. The President can opt to take no action for a period of 10 days. The bill automatically becomes law.
If the President disagrees with the bill, they may opt to veto it instead. In this scenario, the bill dies. A veto can be reversed, but only with a two-thirds majority vote from both the Senate and the House. If this is achieved, it officially becomes law.
Why This Process Matters
So, why exactly is it that the legislative process for creating new laws matters so much? Is it really necessary to go through all of this trouble just to change the law?
Following a legislative process ensures that everyone involved adheres to the same set of standards, checks, and balances. This helps to prevent any one individual, group, or party from enacting laws out of a desire to fulfill their own agenda. It also creates multiple opportunities for evaluation, lowering the risk that unfair, unconstitutional, or tyrannical laws make it into the books. It’s an important part of maintaining freedom in our great country, regardless of who is in power.
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