How is a law actually made? What’s the whole process like? That depends, of course, on what type of law we're talking about. For this example, we'll look at how a bill first introduced in the House of Representatives becomes a public law.

1. When a Representative has an idea for a new law, he or she becomes the sponsor of that bill and introduces it by giving it to the Clerk of the House or by placing it in the hopper. The Clerk assigns a legislative number to the bill, H.R. for bills introduced in the House of Representatives. The Government Publishing Office (GPO) then prints the bill and makes it available digitally through GPO's Federal Digital System (FDsys).

2. Next, the bill is assigned to a committee by the Speaker of the House so that it can be studied. The House has 22 standing committees, each with jurisdiction over bills in certain areas.

The standing committee, or one of its subcommittees, studies the bill and hears testimony from experts and people interested in the bill. The committee may then take three actions. It might: 

  1. release the bill with a recommendation to pass it;
  2. revise the bill and release it; or 
  3. lay it aside so that the House cannot vote on it.

Releasing the bill is called reporting it out. Laying it aside is called tabling.

3. If the bill is released, it then goes on the House Calendar. Here the House Rules Committee may call for the bill to be voted on quickly, limit the debate, or limit or prohibit amendments. Undisputed bills may be passed by unanimous consent, or by a two-thirds vote if Members of the House agree to suspend the rules.

4. The bill then goes to the floor of the House for consideration and begins with a complete reading of the bill (sometimes this is the only complete reading). A third reading (title only) occurs after any amendments have been added. If 218 of the 435 Representatives vote for it to pass, the bill passes by simple majority and moves to the Senate.

5. In order to be introduced in the Senate, a Senator must be recognized by the presiding officer and announce the introduction of the bill.

6. Just as in the House, the introduced bill is assigned to a committee. It is assigned to one of the Senate's 20 standing committees by the presiding officer. The Senate committee studies and either releases or tables the bill just like the House standing committee.

7. Once released, the bill goes to the Senate floor for consideration. Bills are voted on in the Senate based on the order in which they come from the committee; however, an urgent bill may be pushed ahead by leaders of the majority party. When the Senate considers the bill, they can vote on it indefinitely. When there is no more debate, the bill is voted on. If 51 of 100 Senators vote for it, the bill passes by a simple majority.

8. The bill then moves to a conference committee, which is made up of Members from each house. The committee may work out any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The revised bill is sent back to both houses for their final approval. Once approved, the bill is produced in print and digitally by the Government Publishing Office in a process called enrolling. The Clerk from the House certifies the final version. If a bill originates in the Senate, the Secretary of the Senate certifies the final version.

9. The enrolled bill is now signed by the Speaker of the House and then the Vice President. Finally, it is sent for the President's consideration. The President has ten days to sign or veto the enrolled bill. If the President signs the bill, it becomes law. If the President vetoes it, the bill can still become a law if two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House then vote in favor of the bill. 

And that is how laws are made! You can learn even more about this process by checking out Senate Document 105-14, How Our Laws Are Made, in text format or as a PDF.

Want to know what happens next? Check out How Laws Are Implemented.