How A Bill Becomes Law

/How A Bill Becomes Law
How A Bill Becomes Law2016-10-28T19:27:21+00:00

The Legislative Process: How Bills Become Laws

• A Delegate or Senator has an idea for a bill, usually from a constituent.

• He or she presents the idea to the Division of Legislative Services and requests that it be drafted into a bill. The bill is assigned to the patron, introduced, and printed.
o In even years, bills may not be submitted until mid July. In odd years, bills may not be submitted until mid Nov, due to elections.
o Bills must be submitted to Legislative Services by 5 pm on the first Friday of the General Assembly. Bills must be laid on the clerk’s desk of each house no later than 5 pm of the second Friday of the General Assembly.
o Legislative Services post bills on the General Assembly’s Web site usually within one business day after a bill is received. After the second Friday, it may take several days into the next week before all bills are posted on the Web site. The Web site is http://legis.state.va.us.

• The bill is referred to an appropriate committee. The members of the committee consider the bill and decide what action to take. This is when the public may speak.
o In the House, the Speaker determines where bills go. In the Senate, the Clerk initially determines where bills go. If disagreement occurs, senators may have bills moved.
o Bills begin to be assigned to committees on the first day of the General Assembly. After then, bills are assigned as they are introduced.
o If a bill goes to subcommittee to be heard, that is the primary time for the public to speak. Rarely will a committee chairman allow the public to speak to a bill once it’s been heard in a subcommittee.
o A bill must make it out of committee before the entire house may hear and vote on it. Committees may take the following actions: (1) report a bill out of committee by majority vote; (2) pass by a bill indefinitely (PBI); (3) defeat a bill; (4) continue or carry over a bill from the first, even-numbered year of the biennial session to the second, odd-numbered year; (5) pass by a bill for a day when it is not ready to take action; (6) leave it in committee when no motion is made to report the bill, and take no action; or (7) incorporate the bill into other legislation with similar or duplicate language.

• First Reading: The bill title is printed in the Calendar or is read by the Clerk, and the bill advances to second reading.
o After a bill passes one house, it is sent to other body whereby, upon introduction, it is given its first reading and assigned to a committee.

• Second Reading: The next day the bill title appears in the printed Calendar on second reading. Bills are considered in the order in which they appear on the Calendar. The Clerk reads the title of the bill a second time. A bill on second reading is amendable and debatable. A bill that has passed second reading with or without an amendment is engrossed. If an amendment is adopted, the bill is reprinted in its final form for passage.

  • During this “amendable stage” of a bill’s life, so many amendments may be made that “an amendment in the nature of a substitute” may be introduced. Basically, this is a substitute bill for the original bill because of the abundance of amendments.
  • In the House, bills are amended and debated on the Second Reading.
  • In the Senate, bills may be amended, but are rarely debated.
  • Legislation from the other body may not be amended on Second Reading.
  • If either house does not vote for a bill to be engrossed, it is defeated.

• Third Reading: The next day, the engrossed bill title appears in the Calendar on third reading. The title is read a third time by the Clerk. By recorded vote, the bill is passed or failed.
o In the House, delegates may speak to the bill on Third Reading, but they may not debate or amend the bill.
o In the Senate, senators may speak and debate the bill on Third Reading, but they may not amend the bill.
o Legislation received from the other body may be amended or substituted on Third Reading. If so, the legislation must be returned to the house of origin for consideration. If it agrees to the amendments with no further changes, the bill passes.

• Communication: When passed, the bill is sent to the other body, either by the Clerk in a written communication or by a member in person, informing the other body that the bill has passed.

• In the other body: The bill goes through essentially the same procedure as it did in the house of origin. The bill title is printed in the Calendar or is read by the Clerk. The bill is referred to a standing committee, considered, and reported by the committee. The title is read a second and a third time before passage.

• Committee of Conference: If the House amends a Senate bill, or the Senate amends a House bill, and the house of origin disagrees with the amendment, a conference committee, usually three members from each legislative body, may be formed to resolve differences.
o If the house of origin rejects a bill from the other body, the other body may insist on the amended bill. If they do, then the legislative bodies enter into a committee of conference. The conferees often negotiate behind closed doors.
o If the conferees agree, they issue a conference report. The house of origin must accept the conference report for it to move over to the other body. If the other body accepts the conference report, then the bill is enrolled. If either body rejects the conference report, the bill dies.

• Enrollment: After being passed by both houses of the General Assembly, the bill is printed as an enrolled bill, examined, and signed by the presiding officer of each chamber (i.e., the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate).

• Governor: The bill is then sent to the Governor for his approval. After being signed by the Governor, the bill is sent to the Clerk of the House (Keeper of the Rolls of the Commonwealth) and is assigned a chapter number. All chapters of a session are compiled and bound as the Acts of Assembly.
o When the governor receives a bill, he may sign it, veto it, amend it, or let it lie without his signature. He must do so within seven days of receiving the bill unless he receives it within seven days of sine die, after which he has 30 days to act.
o If he vetoes a bill, both bodies of the legislature must override the veto with a two-thirds vote if the legislature desires to do so. If even one house does not achieve the required votes, the bill dies.
o If he amends a bill, the house of origin must agree to the amendment by simple majority. If not, the bill dies. If so, the other body must agree as well in order for the bill to pass. Otherwise, the bill dies.
o If he lets the bill lie on his desk without signing it, the bill automatically becomes law. This is rarely ever done; when used, this maneuver is seen as purely political.

• Bills that become law at a regular session (or the reconvened session that follows) are effective the first day of July following adjournment of the regular session unless otherwise specified.
o The Reconvened Session, a.k.a., the Veto Session, occurs approximately six weeks after sine die for usually just one day.