THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS
The Congress of the United States, the legislature of the U.S.A., is separated structurally from the executive and judicial branches of government. It consists of two houses, the Senate (http://www.senate.gov), in which each state, regardless of its size, is represented by two senators, and the House of Representatives (http://www.house.gov), to which members are elected on the basis of population. Among the express powers of Congress, as defined in the Constitution, are powers to lay and collect taxes, borrow money on the credit of the United states, regulate commerce, coin money, declare war, raise and support armies, and make all laws necessary for the execution of its powers. Although the two chambers of Congress are separate, for the most part, they have an equal role in the enactment of legislation, and there are several aspects of the business of Congress that the Senate and House of Representatives share and that require common action.
HOW A BILL BECOMES LAW
1. A member of Congress introduces a bill, which is sent to the clerk of the Senate or House, who gives it a number and title. Next, the bill goes to the appropriate committee.
2. Committees review and vote on the bill. Committees specialize in different areas of expertise and are made up of small groups of senators or representatives. The committee may reject the bill and “table” it, meaning it is never discussed again. Or it may hold hearings to listen to facts and opinions, make changes in the bill and cast votes. If most committee members vote for the bill, it is sent back to the Senate and then House for debate.
3. The Senate and the House debate and vote on the bill: Separately, the Senate and House debate the bill, offer amendments and cast votes. If the bill is defeated in either the Senate or the House, the bill dies. Sometimes, the House and the Senate pass the same bill, but with different amendments. In these cases, the bill goes to a conference committee made up of members of Congress. The conference committee works out differences between the two versions of the bill. Then the bill goes before all of Congress for a vote. If a majority of both the Senate and the House votes for the bill, it goes to the President for approval.
4. The President signs the bill – or not: If the President approves the bill and signs it, the bill becomes law. However, if the President disapproves, he can veto the bill by refusing to sign it. Congress can try to overrule a veto. If both the Senate and the House pass the bill by a two-thirds majority, the President’s veto is overruled and the bill becomes law.
THE OHIO GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The legislative branch of Ohio government consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Together, these bodies are referred to as “The General Assembly” (www.legislature.state.oh.us/). Ohio’s House of Representatives (www.ohiohouse.gov/) has 99 members; the Senate (www.ohiosenate.gov/) has 33. The Legislative Service Committee (www.lsc.state.oh.us/) is a staff of trained legal experts and personnel that drafts proposals for bills, new laws and law changes — one of several legislative agencies that are also part of the legislative branch of Ohio’s state government.
Creating new laws and changing old ones is one of the most important functions of state government. Any proposal for a new law or for changing an existing law must begin in the General Assembly. Most bills require a majority vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to pass. Emergency measures require a two-thirds majority; constitutional amendments must receive a three-fifths majority to be placed before the voters. If a bill passes in both chambers, it is then presented to the Governor to be signed.
The governor has ten days to sign or veto a bill. If signed, the bill becomes law. If vetoed, the bill is sent back to the General Assembly. At this point the bill can only become law if at least three-fifths of the legislators vote to override the Governor’s veto. A bill can also become law if the Governor fails to take any action on it within ten days.