Legislative History (Process Overview)

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Process Overview

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The Legislative Process in Brief

  1. A concept, idea, or action is proposed and begins the legislative process when it is presented to Congress in the form of a Bill or Resolution on the floor of the House or Senate.
  2. The introduction of proposed legislation by one or more sponsors appears in the Congressional Record.
  3. The proposed House Bill or Resolution is assigned a number and sent to a House Committee for further consideration, hearings, and reported out for consideration by the full House.
  4. Consideration and voting by the full House appears in the Congressional Record.
  5. The Bill then goes to the Senate and is assigned to a Senate Committee for further consideration and hearings.
  6. When the Bill is reported out for consideration by the full Senate, consideration and voting appear in the Congressional Record.
  7. If the Senate and House cannot fully agree on the content of a Bill, it is reviewed by a Joint Committee of Senators and Representatives to resolve the conflict.
  8. All Bills and Resolutions successfully reported out of Committee are reviewed by Standing Legislative Committees, placed on one of several Legislative Calendars, and are subject to legislative rules which determine when and if they will be considered and voted on by the full House and Senate.
  9. When the passage of the Bill by both the House and Senate occur, the Bill is sent to the President for his signature.
  10. The Presidential Signing, the final step in a legislative history, is usually some remarks or message.
  11. A Presidential veto is also accompanied by a (veto) message.
  12. Each new Public Law and Private Law is assigned a Public or Private Law Number, e.g. 109 (Congress) – 12 (12th law passed), and both are issued as slip laws.

Components of a Legislative History

Bills

See flowchart: 1H/S

Definition

Most Bills can be introduced in either chamber, but tax Bills can be introduced only in the House. A new Bill first appears in the Congressional Record. The procedure by which a Bill becomes a law is the same for both Houses of Congress. After the Bill is introduced, it is given a number and referred to the proper committee.

Abbreviations

House
  • H. R. = House of Representatives;
  • H. RES. = House Resolution;
  • H. Con. Res. = House Concurrent Resolution
  • H. J. RES. = House Joint Resolution
Senate
  • S.: Senate;
  • S. RES. = Senate Resolution;
  • S. Con. Res. = Senate Concurrent Resolution
  • S. J. Res. = Senate Joint Resolution,

Explanations

House and Senate Bills are legislative proposals designated (for their point of origin as) HR (for the House of Representatives) or S (Senate) and can be either Public or Private. “Public Bills” which deal with public or general topics become Public Laws. “Private Bills” which deal with individual matters such as claims against the government, immigration and naturalization issues, and land titles, etc. become Private laws. Bills are assigned a number for the order in which they are introduced in a Congress (i.e., S.1 is the first Senate Bill of a particular Congress.)

House and Senate Resolutions are designated by H. Res. or S. Res. They are sequentially numbered and usually deal with the rules of procedures for one chamber of Congress or may express a sentiment of Congress. They require neither passage nor approval by the President and do not have the force of law.

House and Senate Concurrent Resolutions are designated as H. Con. Res. or S. Con. Res. They are also sequentially numbered, must pass both Houses, but are not signed by the President and do have the force of law. Concurrent Resolutions are used to create or amend procedural rules applicable to both houses or express the sentiment of Congress.

House and Senate Joint Resolutions are designated as H. J. Res. or S. J. Res. and requires passage by both houses, approval by the President, and have the force of law just as a House or Senate Bill. A Joint Resolution is usually used for limited matters such as appropriations and to propose constitutional amendments. As proposed amendments to the Constitution, they do not require Presidential signature, but require ratification by three-fourths of the States to become law.


House and Senate Committee Actions

House Committee Action

See flowchart: 2H

1. A House committee meets in executive (closed) sessions to consider the facts. It may kill the Bill, approve it with or without amendments, or draft a new Bill.

House Committee Action

See flowchart: 3H

2. The House committee can reject the Bill, draft a new one, or accept the Senate Bill with our without amendments. The Committee issues a Report, recommends the Bill for passage, and the Bill is listed on the House Calendar.

House Committee Vote/Report

See flowchart: 4H

3. The House recommends the Bill for passage. The Bill is listed on the House Calendar and is sent to the Rules Committee.

House Floor Debate/Vote

See flowchart: 5H

4. The House Rules Committee, one of the most powerful House Committees can block a Bill or clear it for debate before the entire House.

House Floor Debate/Vote

See flowchart: 5H

5. When the Bill then comes up for full House debate, which may last from a few hours to days or longer amendments may or may not be added. A possible revision and debate the Bill is voted on by the full House. The content of the passed or rejected Bill determines the next legislative step. A Bill which passes goes to the Senate.

Senate Committee

See flowchart: 2S

6. The full Senate committee meets in executive (closed) sessions to consider the facts. It may either kill the Bill, approve it with or without amendments, or draft a new Bill.

Senate Committee Vote/Report

See flowchart: 4S

7. The Senate committee issues a Report, recommends the Bill for passage, and the Bill is listed on the Senate Calendar.

Senate Floor Debate/Vote

See flowchart: 5S

8. The Bill then comes up for full Senate debate, which may last from a few hours or longer. Amendments may or may not be added. The Bill is voted on by the full Senate.

Senate Floor Debate/Vote

See flowchart: 5S

9. With Senate passage, the Bill goes to the House of Representatives and is referred to the proper House Committee. If the Bill has passed the House, it goes to the President to be signed.

House/Senate Committee Hearings

See flowchart: 3H and 3S

A House or Senate Committee Hearing is held by a subcommittee to investigate the problems and issues of Bill(s) under consideration. Hearings are usually open to the public, but can be closed. Witnesses, who attend voluntarily or by subpoena, include specialists, government officials, and spokesmen for the persons affected by the Bill(s) under study. Hearings can include testimony, prepared statements, and related special publications or documents. Multi-session hearings can result in multi-volume publications which also include reports, or publications supplied by the witness(es).

House/Senate Committee Prints

See flowchart: 4H and 4S

A House or Senate Committee Print is an approved piece of research, statistical, historical, or analytical compilations of information related to and/or part of subcommittee hearings on Bill(s) under consideration.

House/Senate Committee Reports

See flowchart: 4H and 4S

A House or Senate Committee Report is the most important document in a legislative history. Each report is issued by the Committee after consideration of a Bill. The Report identifies the scope and content of the Bill(s) under consideration as to the content that should become law. A Report is used by the courts, executive departments and agencies, and the public as the authoritative source of information as to the purpose and meaning of the law in question. House and Senate Committee Reports are numbered and designated S. Rept. or H. Rept. Conference Reports, from Joint Senate and House Committees, contain the compromised version of the Bill(s) agreed to by House and Senate committee members. Conference Reports are normally designated by a House Number (H. Rpt.). If the Bill is passed by one body and rejected by the other, or two versions have major differences, either the House or the Senate may request the creation of a joint or conference committee. Three to five members, representing both the Democrat and Republican parties are appointed from each legislative body to make up a Conference Committee.

Conference Committee Reports

See flowchart: 4H and 4S

Conference Committee Reports explain how and why the joint House and Senate conference committee eliminated the differences between the House and Senate versions of the Bill. These reports are important in presenting the legislative intent resulting from the cooperative work of the members of both houses. This report reflects the compromise on the differing language and the reconciliation of the House and Senate Bills’ differences.

House/Senate Committee Documents

See flowchart: 4H and 4S

House or Senate Documents are special publications issued by the full House or Senate with the designation H.Doc or S.Doc. Many result from committee and house Bill consideration This type of publication can include Presidential messages on new legislation or vetoes, special reports of executive branch agencies, or biannual reports on committee activities.

Senate Documents

See flowchart: 4H and 4S

Executive Documents/Treaty Documents are issued by the Senate and relate to Treaty Ratifications. For unique identification, each Executive Document was lettered sequentially within each session of Congress (1789-1980) (Exec. Doc. A). As of 1981, they are called Treaty Documents and are numbered sequentially within each Congress (.e.g. Treaty Doc. 99-1)

Senate Reports

See flowchart: 5S

Senate Executive Reports related to Senate Treaty ratifications or Presidential nominee confirmations by the full Senate. The Executive Reports contain the Senate Committees recommendation to the full Senate and are numbered sequentially within each Congress (.e.g. Exec. Rept. 99-1).

House/Senate Debates

See flowchart: 5H and 5S

Congressional Debates occur on the floor of the House and Senate. Senators and Representatives introduce Bills, offer discussion, interpretations, or pro/con arguments with regard to Bills. Some of the verbal proceedings may be verbatim or revised before being printed, and there may be reprints of materials submitted. Discussion and debate in either or both houses may result in the passage of the Bill by both houses. After the Bill is signed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, it is sent to the President for his signature Historically, Congressional Debates appeared in the: Annals of Congress (1st Congress May 3, 1789 thru 18th Congress 1st Session, May 27, 1824) Register of Debates( 18th Congress 2nd Session, December 6, 1824 thru 25th Congress 1st Session October 16, 1837), The Congressional Globe (23rd Congress, December 2, 1833 thru 42nd Congress, March 3, 1873), and Congressional Record ( 43rd Special Session March 4, 1873 to present).

Presidential Actions/Inactions

See flowchart: 7

The President may sign or veto the Bill within 10 days. If he does not sign the Bill within10 days and Congress is still in session, it automatically becomes a law without his signature. If Congress has adjourned before the 10 days have elapsed and the President has not signed the Bill, the Bill does not become a law. This is known as a Pocket Veto. If the President vetoes a Bill, while congress is in session, it returns to Congress and may still become a law if Congress passes it with a two-thirds majority vote in both Houses. Upon receipt of a Bill, the President can sign it, veto it, or take no action.

Presidential Messages

See flowchart: 7

The President submits treaties to the Senate for ratification, or a proposes Bill to Congress with a letter requesting its enactment, or a required report to Congress. The President’s treaty messages are found in Documents which also contains the text of the proposed treaty and any accompanying documentation or explanation.

Presidential Veto

See flowchart: 7

A Bill that's disapproved, or vetoed, is returned to Congress with a presidential message outlining the reasons for vetoing the Bill. Congress then must decide whether to override or sustain the veto. To override a veto, Congress needs a 2/3rds majority from both chambers. Veto messages may be in the Congressional Record or as a House Document.

Public/Private Laws

See flowchart: 8

Every Bill which becomes a law through a Presidential signature or lack of veto is either a Public Law or Private Law and first appears as a Numbered Slip Law. The new law is then included in the Statutes at Large and the U.S. Code.

A Slip Law is the first official publication of a Bill after it has been signed into law by the President. It is published as an unbound single sheet or pamphlet form and is numbered sequentially by Congress and law numbers (Public Law 96-1, First law of the 96th Congress).

A Public Law applies to public or general topics for the entire country.

A Private Law applies to individual matters such as claims against the government, immigration and naturalization issues, and land titles, etc.

Codification

See flowchart: 9

U.S. Code. The United States Code is the official (GPO-published) subject-organized consolidation and compilation of all the general and permanent laws of the United States in effect at the time of printing. This set is revised every six years with annual updates.

Implementation & Regulatory Action

See flowchart: 10

In many instances new Public laws require that Executive Agencies establish Regulations for the implementation of the new law. The President also has the authority to require an executive agency to create regulations for the implementation of a new law.



The Legislative History Research Guide is maintained by Philip Yannarella. Suggestions and comments are welcome.

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