POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Legislative Process

The term “legislative process” refers to the procedure through which a proposed law goes in order to become law. Legislative processes vary between legislature across the globe, but some common elements in democratic legislatures include the following:

  • a bill is introduced into the Parliament, Congress or Assembly
  • it is then scrutinized by the legislature or legislative sub-committees
  • amendments may be proposed
  • a debate on the final proposal
  • a vote on the bill requiring majority approval
  • signature of the head of state

In the United States, the legislative process follows six broad stages and is largely the same for both chambers of Congress:

  1. Introduction - Members of Congress may introduce bills which are then assigned a specific identifying number
  2. Referral to Committee - the leader of the House of Representatives or Senate (depending on into which chamber the bill was introduced) refers the bill to the relevant committee or committees
  3. In Committee - the committees then typically arrange public consultations to hear community feedback before action is taken in the form of a vote. The bill can be defeated at this stage
  4. House floor - if the bill survives the committee stage, it is then passed on to the entire House for debate and then a vote. Debates are conducted differently in the House of Representative and Senate. The time spent debating in the House can be limited, whereas Senate debates can go on indefinitely when Senators choose to filibuster.
  5. Conference Committee - in many cases, each house produces their own version of the same bill. In such circumstances, each house appoints members to a conference committee whose task is to combine the two versions into one. Once a final version has been agreed upon, both chambers of Congress must vote on it.
  6. Consideration by the President - once a bill has been approved by both houses of Congress it is deemed to be “enrolled”. Now it’s sent to the President who can sign it into law or veto it, sending it back to Congress. If the President hasn’t signed a bill after 10 days it will become law if Congress is in session. If Congress is out of session and the President doesn’t sign it, however, the bill is said to be “pocket vetoed” as does not become law.
See also: Filibuster, Legislature, US Congress

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