CAPITOL HILL 101
HOW DOES A BILL
BECOME A LAW
A “bill” is a proposed law, and thousands are written and introduced every year.
Congressional bills fall into several categories: A proposed law will be titled S.
or H.R., meaning simply ‘Senate’ or ‘House of Representatives.’ An oﬃcial
statement of the House or Senate which does not have the force of law is called
a Resolution, and is often referred to as H. Res. Or S. Res. Resolutions have no
legal force and are used to send a message that the Congress of the United
States is concerned about an issue or applauds good works. Treaties,
nominations, etc. will not have a numeric designation.
The text of bills can be written by Congressmen, their staﬀ, committee staﬀ,
special interests groups, the White House, and even by civic activists like
yourself. It then is reviewed by lawyers and policy experts, and regardless of
who wrote it, a Congressman or Senator will then submit it in his name as the
sponsor. Often a bill is submitted with the names of additional supporters,
known as ‘cosponsors,’ and the more cosponsors a bill has (at the start or who
sign on later), the more regard the bill is given – particularly is a majority of
members have signed onto the bill. Once reviewed and ready for submission, a
bill is simply put in “the hopper” (just a box) and then it is given a sequential
number such as H.R. 1234.
After a bill has been introduced, it will be sent to a subcommittee which
specializes in the subject of the bill. The most eﬀective actions at the time are:
gaining support in the subcommittee, to get the bill scheduled for a
subcommittee vote, and to gather additional cosponsors. Or alerting Members
that a bad bill should not receive hearing, gain cosponsors or be voted upon.
Asking members not on the committee to simply vote for/against it is
premature, as no vote will take place or even be scheduled until it has survived
subcommittee and committee votes, so the better request would be to ask him
or her to cosponsor the bill and get their colleagues to cosponsor it as well.
Once the subcommittee has voted, the bill may advance to the committee.
Then support much be built for a full committee vote.