Animal
Rights
Online
Animal
Rights
Online

Newsletters
Animal Writes
sm
From 7 September 2003 Issue

How A Bill Becomes A Law
(Part 2 of a 3 part series on helping animals through legislative action)
By Michelle Rivera - MichelleRivera1@aol.com

One of my more popular humane education lessons is a high school lesson offering called "Civics." During this lesson, I teach middle and high school students about how our laws are made. I typically use an animal bill as a model and tell the story of how a county ordinance came to pass.

One day, a woman just like you or me or anyone (could be a man too, of course) was driving along. She noticed that the car in front of her was a pick up truck. In the back of the truck was an unrestrained dog. The driver of the truck swerved to avoid an accident and the dog bounced out of the truck. The woman driving behind had to slam on her brakes to avoid hitting the injured dog, causing the car behind her to hit her.

She, of course, was outraged! "There oughta be a law against dogs in the back of pickup trucks!" she cried.

Indeed.

She wrote to her county commissioner who was a little lukewarm on the whole matter. So she had a few friends write as well. The "cause" took on a life of it's own and within a year, several hundred letters had been received in the offices of the county commissioners. They knew they had to take some action. They called the county attorney and asked her to draft a bill that says that dogs must be safely restrained while riding in the back of a pick up truck. After several evolutions, the bill was created. It states that dogs must be either in a crate or cage that is secured to the bed or sides of the truck OR they must be double-tethered from either side while riding in the back of a pickup truck. (Personally, I prefer they be in the air-conditioned or heated CAB of the truck with the driver, but that's not the point of this story.)

The bill was created, the commissioners voted on it and it became a county ordinance. In much the same way, our state and federal laws are made. Here's a breakdown of how that occurs:

A member of Congress introduces a bill in his/her chamber of Congress (the House or Senate). He or she will do this because a constituent has requested it. A constituent just like the woman driving behind the back of the pick up truck.

The bill is referred to the appropriate committee(s) and the committee(s) refers the bill to the appropriate subcommittee(s). Each committee contains subcommittees which specialize in an area overseen by the committee. Some bills may be referred to more than one committee and therefore more than one subcommittee.

The subcommittee(s) considers the bill and may hold a hearing on it and even try to amend it. The subcommittee(s) then votes on the bill and reports it to the full committee.

The committee(s) considers the bill, may hold a hearing on it, may amend it and then vote on it. Once a bill passes a committee, it is reported to the floor.

Members of the chamber (House or Senate) debate the bill on the floor and then likely vote on it.

After one chamber has passed the bill, the bill is sent to the other chamber and the process is repeated. If both chambers pass the bill, it is sent to the president.

If the other chamber, however, passes a bill which varies slightly from the previous bill, both versions are sent to a conference committee which reconciles the difference between the two bills in a conference report. The conference committee submits the conference report to be approved by both chambers.

Congress sends the approved bill to the president to be signed into law.

If the president vetoes the bill, two-thirds of each chamber must vote to override the veto in order for the bill to become a law.

FEDERAL LEGISLATIVE PROCESS
Your first step may be to ask your legislators to introduce (sponsor) a bill. When a bill is introduced in the House of Representatives and/or the Senate, it is referred to the committee that handles the general subject area. That committee may then refer the bill to a subcommittee within its jurisdiction. If a bill has already been sponsored and introduced by a legislator from another state or district, you may want your legislators to cosponsor the bill-that is, officially add their names to the list of representatives or senators who are in favor of that bill. Typically, the greater number of cosponsors of a bill, the greater the chance that a bill will gain additional consideration. Remember, not all bills introduced in Congress are taken up for a vote.

As a bill makes its way through a committee and perhaps a subcommittee, it can be amended. During this process, you may want to ask your legislator to introduce an amendment to a bill or to support or oppose another legislator's amendment to the bill.

A bill destined for a vote must be approved by the subcommittee and then the committee. Members of the appropriate subcommittee and committee play a major role in the passage of a bill. If members of the subcommittee or committee do not vote in favor of the bill, the bill will never reach the floor for a vote. After the committee reports the bill to House or Senate leadership, the bill is brought to the floor-placed on the calendar for debate by the full House or Senate.

A bill needs to pass in both the House and the Senate before it is sent to the president to sign or veto. If a bill of similar content is passed separately in the House and the Senate with slight differences, that bill is sent to conference committee consisting of members of both the House and the Senate. The conference committee will work out the differences between the two versions. Once the bill leaves the conference committee, it will be voted upon again by the full House and Senate. If the bill passes both chambers, it will be sent to the president.

STATE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS
Although the legislative process at the state level is generally similar to the federal process, it does differ slightly from state to state. Contact The HSUS or your state's legislative website to see how your state legislature operates.

One major difference between the federal and state process is that in almost all states, committees will hold a public hearing on a bill before committee members place their vote. This allows the citizen lobbyist the opportunity to testify for or against a particular bill and have the testimony put on the record. The committee then votes on the bill, and if it passes (as introduced or with amendments) it is sent to the full floor for consideration. If the bill passes on the floor, it is sent to the other side of the legislature to follow the same process (except in the case of unicameral legislatures). If the second chamber amends the bill it will go back to the first chamber for approval and if there is disagreement, the bill is sent to a conference committee. If the bill is not further amended, it is sent to the Governor to be signed into law or to be vetoed.

If the Governor allows the deadline to pass without signing it or vetoing it, it passes. This happened in two cases recently in Florida, both for and against the animals. The Animal Fighting Bill sat on Gov. Bush's desk past midnight on the designated date and became law. However, the bill allowing slot machines at higher stakes at Greyhound racing tracks also sat on the governor's desk and passed without his lifting a finger to stop it.

The Humane Activist Network, a project of the Fund for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, helps activists to navigate this series of events and tells us when to get involved and how at each stage of the bill-making process. They may ask for letters to the committees or to our representatives at various times while the bill is making it's way through. To join the Humane Activist Network and help animals through legislation, please contact JGoodwin@hsus.org.

Go on to Website of Note
Return to 7 September 2003 Issue
Return to Newsletters

** Fair Use Notice**
This document may contain copyrighted material, use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owners. I believe that this not-for-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the copyrighted material (as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law). If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Home Page

Newsletters

Poetry

Quotations

Your comments and inquiries are welcome

This site is hosted and maintained by:
The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation
Thank you for visiting all-creatures.org.


Since date.gif (991 bytes)