Understanding the Legislative Process
Several legislative process considerations directly impact how a bill or resolution will be drafted. Most notably, it must comply with the Rules of the House. This determination is ultimately up to the presiding officer (the Speaker or the Chair of the Committee of the Whole), but the presiding officer gives great weight to the recommendations of the Parliamentarian of the House of Representatives.
The Office of the Parliamentarian will review a draft upon request and identify any parliamentary problems and offer suggestions for how to solve them. They can also advise of the committee or committees to which the measure is likely to be referred and recommend drafting strategies for influencing referral.
More general advice on parliamentary procedure is available to Members and staff from the Congressional Research Service.
For reasons of strategy, a Member of the House may want to introduce a “companion” to a Senate bill or to encourage a Senator to introduce a “companion” to a House bill. The important thing to remember is that mere passage by both houses of identical text is not enough to send the bill to the President for signature; rather, each house must pass the same vehicle. In other words, at some point, the decision must be made for the Senate to take up a House-passed version or for the House to take up a Senate-passed version. This requirement for passage of the same vehicle explains why every law that Congress passes involves either the Senate passing a measure with an “H.R.” or “H. J. Res.” designation or the House passing a measure with an “S.” or “S. J. Res.” designation. It also means that the introduction of companion texts in both houses, while a perfectly acceptable strategy, is unnecessary to meet parliamentary requirements.
Constitutional Authority Statements
Clause 7(c) of House Rule XII provides that a bill or joint resolution may not be introduced unless it is accompanied by a statement citing the power granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the bill or joint resolution.
The following are additional sources of information about the legislative process that may be helpful during drafting and as a bill moves through the stages of consideration by Congress:
- Rules of the House of Representatives
- How Our Laws Are Made—An overview of the legislative process from start to finish, revised and updated by John V. Sullivan, the former Parliamentarian of the House of Representatives.
- Forms of Legislation—A discussion in the HOLC Guide to Legislative Drafting of the four different forms of legislative vehicles used by Congress.
- How Our Laws Are Made: A Ghost Writer’s View—A discussion by former Legislative Counsel Sandra L. Strokoff of the role and work of the House Office of the Legislative Counsel.
- The House Explained—General information about the House of Representatives on the House website.