How a Bill Becomes a Law

Domestic violence is a public health crisis that affects over 12 million people per year. Laws enacted on both the state and federal levels provide protection for survivors and help fund resources devoted to helping survivors. However, many people don’t understand how a bill becomes a law because the process can be confusing. If you want to advocate for domestic violence support and legislation, knowing that process is crucial.

How a Bill Becomes a Law

  1. A lawmaker introduces a bill in either the House of Representatives or the Senate.
  2. The Clerk assigns the bill a number, labels it with the sponsor’s/sponsors’ names, and sends the bill to the Government Printing Office.
  3. Congressional chamber leadership refers the bill to the appropriate committees. Bills can be sent to more than one committee, and if a committee refuses a bill, it is effectively dead. The subcommittee reports back to the main committee, and the main committee can amend the bill.
  4. The committee reports the bill back to the House/Senate with comments, including whether the committee supports or opposes the bill.
  5. The bill is placed on the calendar for the entire chamber for review and debate by the House/Senate.
  6. Legislators debate the bill and have the option to add amendments. In the House, a limited amount of time is allotted to debate. In the Senate, debate is unlimited. This can sometimes lead to a filibuster; Senators will continue talking and debating until either the bill is dropped because the Senators plan to keep talking until the end of the legislative session or cloture is invoked, meaning the debate ends and legislators vote. Sixty Senators must vote in favor of ending debate to invoke cloture.
  7. The chamber votes on the bill.
  8. The chamber that passed the bill sends it to the other chamber for consideration.
  9. If the other chamber defeats the bill, it is dead.
  10. If both the House and Senate pass the same bill, it goes to the president for their signature. If the other chamber passes an amended bill, the bill goes to a conference committee to create a compromise bill, called a conference report. Each chamber then has to approve the conference report.
  11. The president either signs the bill or vetoes it. If the president does not sign the bill within ten days, it de facto becomes law. If the president vetoes it, it does not become law unless Congress overrides the veto. In this case, two-thirds of legislators in each chamber must vote to override the veto in order for it to become law.

Even when we know the basics of how a bill becomes a law, it can still feel complicated. This video from Schoolhouse Rock does a great job explaining what the process looks like!

Get Involved

Now that you understand how a bill becomes a law, you can begin to act for domestic violence survivors. Click here to learn how to contact your member of Congress. You can also learn about The Hotline’s policy goals here and sign up for action alerts. Through advocacy together, we can create a world where all relationships are free from violence.