How a bill becomes law

With a new session of the Michigan legislature just underway, may bills will be proposed. Understanding the steps in how a bill becomes law can help citizens participate in the process.

With the start of a new year, there is also the beginning of a new legislative session. In Michigan, the main role of the legislature is to make laws. This role is vested in our bicameral or two-chamber system which consists of the Senate with 38 members and the House of Representatives with 110 members. These two bodies can research, develop and consider any new legislation for the state that is not prohibited by the state or federal constitutions.

How a bill becomes a law is a multi-step process that includes both the legislative and executive branches. Proposed laws may be introduced for a number of reasons: to modify or eliminate statutes that are no longer adequate; to bring current laws up to date with current conditions; or to address new or emerging issues in the state.

During a two-year legislative session, 3000 to 4000 bills may be introduced for possible action. Bills can be introduced in either the House or Senate or, in some cases, identical bills are introduced in both chambers at the same time.

When a bill is introduced in either chamber, it is sent to one of the committees that deals with that issue. The bill is give a number starting with “HB” for the House of Representative or “SB” for the Senate. Copies of the bill are made available both in hard copy and online.

The State Constitution requires that any bill must be printed and distributed to each house at least five days prior to passage. This requirement is to prevent “hasty or ill-considered” legislation and to allow interested parties outside the legislature to become familiar with the bill prior to house or senate action.

House and Senate committees usually have five to seventeen members with some having subcommittees. After the first reading and assignment to committee, actions of the committee may include: reporting the bill with favorable recommendations, no recommendations or with unfavorable recommendations; offering amendments; replacing the bill with a substitute bill; referring it to another committee; or postponing indefinitely so it never get a hearing. The decision on whether a bill gets a hearing is entirely determined by the committee chair.

If a bill goes to a second reading (or General Orders in the Senate), the House or Senate debates the bill and considers amendments both from committee members and the floor.

If the bill is passed by the originating chamber, it then goes to the other chamber to repeat the process. If the second chamber makes changes to the original bill, then the bill must go back to the originating chamber for a vote on the changes. If the amendments are significant, it could get referred to a conference committee made up of three members from each chamber to work out the differences. If both chambers come to agreement, then the bill is sent to the Governor for signature.

If the Governor signs the bill, it becomes law ninety days after the close of the session or immediately if given “Immediate Effect” by the legislature. If the Governor vetoes the bill, then the bill is returned to the originating chamber. If both the House and Senate repass the bill with a 2/3’s vote, the Governor’s veto is overridden and the bill becomes law. If the bill is not passed with that margin, the bill dies.

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