State Legislative Guide
The bill process
How it works

Your involvement in the bill process is essential to getting lawmakers to craft legislation that reflects your views. The earlier you become involved in the process, the better.

How a bill becomes law may, at times, seem confusing. The process, however, is quite simple to follow once you know the basics. It’s virtually the same in almost every state legislature from Olympia to Oklahoma City.

Idea conceived: A state representative or senator decides to sponsor a bill, which changes current law, adds new law, or deletes existing law, sometimes at the suggestion of a constituent, interest group, public official or the governor. The lawmaker may ask other legislators to join as co-sponsors.

Bill drafted: At the lawmaker’s direction, an office of legislative services provides research and drafting assistance, and prepares the bill in proper technical form.

Bill introduced: The sponsoring lawmaker gives the bill to the clerk’s office, and the bill’s title is read aloud. This is known as the first reading. The bill is then referred to an appropriate committee.

Committee action: The members of the committee consider the bill and decide what action to take. The committee may amend, hold, table, substitute or make a favorable recommendation on the bill. The committee can also have public hearings on the proposal.

Floor action: The bill’s title is read aloud before the entire chamber. This is called the second reading. The bill is then debated in open session, also called “floor debate.” At this time, the measure can be amended or replaced. It is then given a third reading and voted on. If approved, it heads to the other chamber – either the House/Assembly or the Senate – where the process is repeated.

However, one state legislature has only one chamber – Nebraska. So bills in that state go through the process only once.

Conference committee: If a bill is amended while in the second chamber and the chamber of origin disagrees with the change, a conference committee of members from both chambers may be formed to resolve differences. Both chambers must then approve the revised version from the conference committee.

Enrollment: After being approved in identical form by both chambers, the bill is printed as an enrolled bill, examined and signed by the presiding officer of each chamber.

Governor’s action: The bill is then sent to the governor. The governor can sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. However, in some states if the governor fails to sign by the deadline, it has the same impact as if he actually vetoed the bill. This is often referred to as a pocket veto. LL


FAQ Q. How can a bill carry over to the next year? A.More than half of all states have two-year, or biennial, legislative sessions. In that type of schedule, if a bill hasn’t been signed into law or defeated at the end of the first year, it can be resubmitted for discussion the following year.