A lot happens to a bill between the time it is introduced and the day it’s signed into law. In both federal and state governments, committee votes are an important part of a bill’s journey.
After introduction in a legislative body (such as a senate, house of representatives or assembly), a bill is referred to the committeecomprised of legislators elected to serve in that bodyappropriate to the bill’s subject matter. Because bills might impact several layers of government, they often have to be considered by several committees. For example, say a state senator introduces a bill that seeks to increase fines and jail time for certain acts of animal cruelty. The bill might be assigned to the state senate’s agriculture committee, where many animal-related bills are considered, or to the judiciary committee, since penalty standards are being altered. If enforcement of the proposed new law will require government funding, the bill might also go to a budget or ways and means committee, which will figure out how the bill’s concepts may be financed.
One at a time, each committee debates and “marks up” (edits) the proposed bill. A committee may also add new language and ideas to a bill in the form of amendments. Prior to a full committee vote, there may be open hearings on the bill that allow public testimony.
When the committee’s chairperson decides that the time is right, the revised bill is scheduled to be voted on by the full committee. A simple majority is usually all that is needed to pass. If the bill passes, it either moves to the next committee that needs to consider it or it moves to the floor of the main legislative bodyin our example, the state senatefor a vote.
The committee vetting process is almost always the most time-consuming part of creating legislation, and there are many ways in which a bill can be obstructed during this process: