News media reports come out almost daily with laws that have passed (and sometimes what didn’t make it into law). There are laws and more laws, with laws regulating laws telling us all what we can or can’t do. Private laws and public laws, regulatory laws, procedural laws and criminal laws – just to name a few.
Laws are conceived in an effort to protect and maintain social control for all people. Before the Constitution people received their laws from judges and this was known as common law. This area of law is rare in today’s society, but still does exist in certain areas. The Constitution set out the legislative branch of the government to make laws. The legislative branch consists of two parts: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Either side of the legislature can introduce a potential law, but both sides have to vote on the matter before it is made into law.
A proposed law is called a bill and has to be filed within the legislative branch. The bill is then read to the constituents in what is termed the first reading. This first reading is where the proposed law is introduced and makes others aware of the pending law. The bill may be handed over to a committee for review and debate. Hearings are held so those voices either for or against the bill becoming law can be heard. Many bills never make it out of these committees to be voted on by the legislature.
If the bill does make it out of committee and is slotted for a legislative hearing, present members can propose amendment changes and add further debate on the issue. If amendments are proposed, the bill will be sent back to committee. If the matter is voted against it does not go any further. If the matter is voted for, it then goes to the other branch of the legislature and goes through a similar procedure.
If both sides of the legislature pass the matter, the President (or state governor) receives the proposed bill. If the President (or state governor) signs the bill it becomes law. If the proposal is vetoed it is returned to the legislature for another vote in which two-thirds of the vote for the matter in each branch can override the veto and thus enact the law. If the matter does not receive the necessary vote it is defeated. If the President does not sign or veto the bill and ten days elapse while the legislature is still in session the matter becomes law. If the legislature adjourns from session and ten days go by before the President does anything, it is considered a pocket veto and the matter dies.
State legislatures operate in similar ways to the federal government. Counties and cities can also impose laws for their jurisdictions and while the process is similar it often happens faster than any at the state and federal levels. Generally the matter will be brought up in an open forum at least three times so those either for or against the matter can voice their opinions, facts and information.
With all these steps and procedures it is amazing that any laws are passed. The process is not a speedy or simple one but in a democratic society it is what keeps a dictatorship at bay.
Davidson, Daniel V. and Jespersen, Robert R. The American Legal System. 1987. Kent Publishing Company. Belmont, CA.