The legislative process is how a bill is enacted into federal law.
Aside from knowing the political structure and complying with various regional and local regulations, advocates whose overarching goal is a new or revised policy should be well versed in how a bill can become law and the specific procedural rules that apply to the process.
Significant issues may arise if advocates fail to implement a specific procedural norm, causing the lobbying effort to delay or be terminated.
Learn the basics of the U.S. legislative process from someone who knows every nook and cranny of how it works. Tune in as Alison Hernandez, PhD, R.N., Health & Aging Policy Fellow in the U.S. House of Representatives, explains how a bill becomes a law.
Key points covered in this episode:
✔️ Be in the know.
The number one thing is folks should know who their federal and state representatives are. You are represented in the United States Congress by one member of the House of Representatives (voted into office from a local district) and two members of the Senate, depending on where you live. Congress.gov is an excellent resource where you can search for bills by either theme, subject matter, or your representative or senator.
✔️ How Laws Are Made.
Here’s a short overview of how bills are enacted to become a law.
- Drafting: Laws start from an idea. Advocates can come up with a write up and connect with a Representative to draft a bill.
- Introduction: A representative sponsors a bill. After that, the bill is referred to a committee for review.
- Mark Up: Bills issued by the committee are scheduled for voting, discussion, or amendment.
- Voting: The bill will be sent to the Senate if it receives unanimous approval (218 out of 435 votes).
- A conference committee works out any discrepancies between the House and Senate editions of the bill made up of members of both chambers.
- The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives and the Senate for final passage.
- The Government Printing Office prints the updated bill in a process known as enrolling.
- The President has ten days to approve or veto the law that has been enrolled.
✔️ The power of the Congress.
The Constitution gives Congress enormous authority as one of the three coequal branches of government. Congress has exclusive legislative authority, which means it is the only branch of government that may enact new laws or amend existing ones. Regulations issued by Executive Branch agencies have full legal power but are under the legislation established by Congress. The President may veto bills passed by Congress, but a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate can overturn a veto.
✔️ How to connect with your Representatives?
It’s as easy as sending an email or making a phone call to reach out to your Member of Congress. Do a multi-modal strategy where you may call and email and set up an appointment and then follow up by email or phone call or on social media. They have offices in both their home districts and in Washington, D.C. These offices should have all of their contact details readily accessible on their websites.
✔️ The follow-up is golden.
The more you follow up and insist, the more likely things will happen. Every email and voicemail is listened to and counted—it’s just a matter of prioritizing what they are.
If you have questions, comments, or need help, please feel free to drop a one-minute audio or video clip and email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will get back to you by recording an answer to your question.
I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (‘96) and Master of Science in Nursing (‘00) as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) School of Nursing (SON). I truly enjoy working with the complex medical needs of older adults. I worked full-time for five years as FNP in geriatric primary care across many long-term care settings (skilled nursing homes, assisted living, home and office visits) then transitioned into academic nursing in 2005, joining the faculty at UNCW SON as a lecturer.
I obtained my PhD in Nursing and a post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing Education from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing (2011) ) and then joined the faculty at Duke University School of Nursing as an Assistant Professor. My family moved to northern Virginia in 2015 and led to me joining the faculty at George Washington University (GW) School of Nursing in 2018 as a (tenured) Associate Professor where I am also the Director of the GW Center for Aging, Health and Humanities.
Find out more about her work HERE.