The Legislative Process Skip to content

The Legislative Process

A step-by-step explanation of how a bill moves through the legislative process.

If you are just starting to follow politics, or are trying to be an active participant, it can be confusing. You hear of a bill not making it out of committee, or passing one chamber, and you’re not sure what that means. Well, we’re here to help!

Below is the basic process for something to become a law, from the initial filing of the bill to being signed into law by the governor. It is not a linear, forward-only process; bills can get sent back to committee, or even never heard at all. But, if you know the basics below, you can usually figure out where the bill is in the process.

Filed One or more sponsors have submitted the bill for official assignment of a number in their chamber. Bills are given numbers reflecting the chamber they originated in, such as HB-102 (House Bill 102).
In Committee The bill has been assigned to the appropriate committee in its originating chamber for study and possible changes (“mark up”).

If the committee does not pass the bill on to the floor of the chamber for a vote, the bill has “died in committee.”

If the committee approves sending the bill to the floor, the bill has been “reported out of committee.”

It is critical to know which committee has the bill, because contacting the members of the committee is often your best chance to have an impact on the bill.
Scheduled The bill has been placed on the chamber’s calendar for consideration. If it is placed on the “consent calendar,” that means the leaders assume it will pass without debate (everyone will “consent” to it passing). Legislators can ask or move that a bill be taken off the consent calendar and added to the floor calendar.
Floor Debate and Vote The bill is debated on the floor of the chamber, possibly amended, then voted on. It can also be sent back to committee, either the original one or another one.
Referred to Other Chamber (“Crossed Over”) If the bill passes in its originating chamber, it is then referred to the other chamber for consideration. There, it typically has to go through the same process, beginning with assignment to a committee, being reported out of committee to the floor, and being voted on by the second chamber.
Conference Committee If the other chamber does not change the bill significantly, then the vote in the second chamber may be the final action on the bill before sending it to the executive for signature.

On the other hand, if the second chamber changes the bill substantially, then a conference committee will be formed with members from both chambers to work out the final wording of the bill. If the conference committee cannot agree, the bill dies.

If the conference committee can come to an agreement, a conference committee report is prepared, and both houses have to approve that report. If they do, the bill is then sent to the executive for signing.

Final Actions The executive has three possible actions regarding the bill: sign it into law, veto it, or ignore it.

If the executive vetoes the bill, the legislature can try to override the veto.

If the executive ignores the bill while the legislature is in session, the bill becomes law anyway after ten days.

If the executive ignores the law while the legislature is out of session, the bill dies.

(Note that these rules are different for state and local legislative bodies.)

If you have questions about any of this, feel free to write us at Webmaster (at) ForwardKY (dot) com.