Tag Archives: Congress

Civics 101: How a Bill Becomes a Law

The following blog post was written by Vishali Gandhi, LWVNJ summer intern.

The United States government, both at the federal and state level, is divided into three distinct and separate branches: the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. The legislature passes laws, the executive enforces them, and the judiciary resolves disputes with the law. The legislative branch is comprised of the U.S. Congress on the federal level and the N.J. State Legislature on the state level. Both bodies are bicameral, meaning that they are split into two “houses”. Congress is divided into the House of Representatives and the Senate and the N.J. legislature is divided into the General Assembly and the Senate. They are similar in structure and they have almost identical procedures for passing bills.

The legislative process can be incredibly daunting, to say the least. The passage of each bill is a laborious (and often long) process that starts with the conception of an idea and can end in either passage and enactment  or failure.

Rally in front of NJ State House

The first step in the process is the introduction of a bill onto the floor of the legislature. Bills can only be introduced by members of the legislature; however bills can often be inspired by concerns from constituents or interest groups (so contact your representative!). Once the bill has been drafted, it is assigned a name, which is read aloud on the floor of the legislature (this is referred to as the “first reading”). The member who introduced the bill is called the “sponsor”; if there are multiple members introducing and working on the bill, they are called the “co-sponsors”. Bills can be introduced in either house, both at the state and federal levels (except for federal money bills, which must originate in the U.S. House of Representatives).

After the bill has been introduced, it is sent to the appropriate committee for consideration. Congress and the N.J. Legislature each have their own sets of committees in both houses, each which deals with a particular area of legislation. A federal bill concerning the budget, for example, would be sent to the Ways and Means Committee in the House and the Appropriations Committee in the Senate. The committee considers the bill very carefully and often makes changes or amendments to bills (this process is called the “mark-up”). The committee can also decide to send the bill to a more specific subcommittee for further consideration and amendment. If the bill returns from the subcommittee, it can either be reported to the floor for a vote or it can be “tabled” (in effect, killing it).

New Jersey State House in Trenton

If the committee decides to report out the bill, it is put on the legislative calendar and is presented on the floor of the legislature once more (known as the second reading). At this time, any legislator can offer amendments to the bill and the floor is opened to debate. In the U.S. Senate, the bill can be filibustered, which involves delaying or stopping the passage of a bill by debating it for an extraordinarily long period of time (the record for the longest filibuster belongs to Senator Strom Thurmond who filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for over 24 hours). The only way to end a filibuster is to invoke cloture, which requires a three-fifths majority to vote in favor of ending the debate period. Once the debate has concluded and all amendments have been discussed and voted on, a third reading of the bill occurs.

After the third reading, the bill is put to a vote. The entire house votes on the passage of the bill, and if a simple majority (50% plus 1) votes in favor, the bill passes and moves on to the next step. The bill can also be sent back to committee for further consideration. This process is the same in both the federal and state legislatures.

If the bill passes, it is sent to the other house for consideration, where it may pass, fail, or be amended. After the process is complete in the second house, a conference committee, comprised of members from both houses, is formed to resolve any differences between the two bills. They must be approved in identical forms by both the houses in order to move out of either the Congress of the N.J. State Legislature.

Once the bill has undergone its final passage through both houses, it is sent to the desk of the president or governor. There are several things that can happen to the bill at this point: it can be signed by the president or governor, it can be vetoed (the governor has the power of the line-item veto, which allows him or her to remove any part of a  spending bill), or it can simply sit on his or her desk. If a bill sits on the governor’s desk for 45 days without any action, the bill automatically becomes law. If a bill sits on the president’s desk for 10 days (and if Congress is in session), the bill automatically becomes law. If the Congressional session ends during the 10 day period, the bill does not become law (this is called a pocket veto). If the bill is vetoed by either the president or the governor, the legislature can override it with a 2/3 vote; if there are not enough votes to override the veto, the bill is defeated. If the bill is signed (or the veto is overridden), it becomes law.

 

 

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2011 Voters Guide for Senate and Assembly Races Now Available!

Do you know where your candidates for the upcoming General Election stand on hot button issues like unemployment, property taxes, education, eminent domain, and the state’s energy needs? As part of an effort to encourage informed participation, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey has published the responses of the candidates running for New Jersey Senate and Assembly to 10 hard hitting questions about these issues in its 2011 Voters Guide.  This guide is available on the League’s website, www.lwvnj.org.

The questions reflect what matters most to New Jersey’s voters. Listed by district, the online 2011 Voters Guide provides an easy way of accessing the candidates’ responses. There is a link to help voters find their district, which may have changed as a result of the 2010 census and redistricting.

There is also an analysis of the statewide public question that will appear on the November 8th ballot. The League’s analysis of the ballot question includes the question and interpretive statement that will be found on the ballot, as well as a background of the question and reasons for voting yes and reasons for voting no.  The statewide public question asks if voters will allow the Legislature, when permitted by federal law, to legalize the placing of bets on certain sports events at casinos, racetracks, and former racetrack sites.

VoteThe 2011 Voters Guide, the ballot question analysis, redistricting information, and a wealth of additional voter service information can be found at www.lwvnj.org. In addition, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey also offers a toll-free hotline, 1-800-792-VOTE (8683) for members of the public to call in with their voting questions. That hotline is staffed during business hours and will also be available on Election Day while the polls are open (6 am – 8 pm) for voters in need of assistance.

LWVNJ Education Fund Prepares Voters for November 2 General Election with Nonpartisan Ballot Question Analysis and Congressional Voters’ Guide

In an effort to encourage informed participation in the upcoming General Election, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Education Fund has posted an analysis of the statewide public question that will appear on the November 2 ballot. The League also asked ten federal policy questions to all New Jersey candidates running for U.S. House of Representatives and posted candidates’ responses on the website.

The League’s analysis of the ballot question includes an easier to read interpretation of the question and reasons one might vote yes and one might vote no.  The public question asks for voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would dedicate certain worker benefit funds (disability, unemployment, etc) to be used only for the purpose for which they are collected, prohibiting the State from transferring, borrowing, or appropriating these specific funds. The League provides two reasons a voter might vote yes, including “passage will require that worker benefit funds be used for the purpose for which they are collected” and two reasons a voter may vote no, including “passage will limit the ability of the Legislature to make decisions based on the State’s financial needs at any given time”. The League takes no position on this public question.

“This information gives voters a fighting chance once they’re in the voting booth.  Often ballot questions are complicated and it is apparent from the number of phone calls we are receiving that New Jersey voters need more information before they can decide how to vote,” said Anne Ruach Nicolas, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. “Using our nonpartisan informational tools, voters can research the public question and informatively cast a vote which best represents their own views and positions.”

Another nonpartisan informational tool available to aid voters in making informed decisions is the 2010 Congressional Voters’ Guide. The League asked ten specific policy questions, on topics such as education funding, cap and trade, immigration, campaign finance reform, and health care reform, and posted the candidates’ responses on www.lwvnj.org.

In addition to providing these online resources, and offering a toll free hotline to assist the public with voting information, 1-800-792-VOTE, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey is also sponsoring and/or moderating 11 congressional debates throughout New Jersey’s congressional districts. The League also held almost 20 voter registration drives throughout the state in one weekend in September, and countless other registration drives during the fall election season to register voters for the November 2 General Election.

Many New Jersey voters have been calling the League’s toll free hotline, 1-800-792-VOTE, requesting information about the public question, asking about voter registration and the application process for voting by mail, and seeking information about their candidates. The League of Women Voters is an excellent resource for voters because of its strict nonpartisan stance and educational mission.