From Bill to Law

Published: Wednesday, Jun. 20, 2007
Updated: Friday, Nov. 14, 2008 - 12:44 pm

Grade Level: 3-5
Social Studies

Every law must begin as a bill that must get the approval of Congress and the President.Politicians and the media are already buzzing about who will be running for the American presidency in 2008. But today's lawmaking leaders—including the president—must do their best to focus on the business at hand. After all, they still have nearly two more years of lawmaking ahead of them before the next big election.

The 2007 election brought change to the nation's Legislative Branch. The Democrats now serve as the majority over the Republicans in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. To herald this shift, Democrats in the House vowed to push through bills that support their six-point agenda within the first 100 hours of the legislative session. Points included ethics reforms to help curb political corruption, raising the minimum wage, and more money for clean energy projects.

You may think that all of those points seem like worthy causes, so how hard could it be to turn those ideas into laws? Well, the tough part comes in working out the details.

For example, putting more money into renewable energy research is a great idea, but that means money has to be taken from somewhere else. Some argue that instead of giving oil companies big tax breaks, as they have had in previous years, maybe that tax money could be used to boost clean energy technology. On the other hand, we want to keep oil companies happy, to raise domestic oil production and free ourselves from imports. For now, most of the U.S. still relies on oil as its biggest energy source and it will take time to replace old technology with newer technology.

With many more hours and days ahead in the legislative session, you will no doubt keep hearing more about important issues as Congress debates them, passes new bills, and sends them to the President to either sign into law or veto. To get a grip on this complex process, during this week's lesson you will explore how an idea becomes a law.

An Overview

Congress includes the House of Representatives and the Senate.Begin your lesson at Ben's Guide to Government for Kids.

First, review the Branches of Government. Can you name them? Continue by exploring the Legislative Branch, which includes Congress. Identify the key features that make The House of Representatives different from the Senate.

Next, get an introduction into lawmaking, starting with What Is A Law? Discover Who Makes Laws and How Laws Are Made. How exactly does the process start? Who is a constituent? As you read through this process, create a flowchart of the three different routes a bill could take, starting with its proposal. Make more branches along the chart's routes, as needed. Keep enough space in between the steps in the process, so that you can write down more details and notes later.

Kids in the House

A bill must be introduced  and debated.Now, you will dive deeper into the how and why of American government with Kids in the House, at The Office of the Clerk.

If you would like, Meet the Clerk first, and then Learn About Congress. Here, you can discover more about House Members who represent your state and identify in which congressional district you live. Also, make sure to discover more about House Committees and House Leadership. Write down three to five sentences that describe the purpose of a committee and how it works. In one sentence, describe the duties of each of the eight leadership positions. Talk with classmates about how the duties assigned to committees and to individual leaders helps the lawmaking process.

Take a more detailed look into How Laws Are Made, using the flowchart you made earlier as a reference. As you follow A. Bill's journey, write down more details along the process, as needed.

Begin the process to find out why a congressperson would Propose a bill, and how a bill is Introduced. Accompany the bill through Committee, and then through Subcommittee. See how the bill is Reported and Considered, until it goes to Vote. If the bill passes the House, it is then Referred to Senate. What happens when a Bill is Enrolled? Keep going through the flowchart, whether a bill becomes Law, gets a Veto by the president, or if Congress succeeds in a Veto Override.

Most laws affect every citizen, directly or indirectly.Okay, now use your flowchart to Inspect-A-Law—to investigate and track the mystery of how certain days of the year became official federal holidays. Start your sleuthing with clue number one, The U.S. Constitution. Follow the trail of clues all the way to put it all together and uncover The Solution.

Make sure to get familiar with how to Research Legislation, so you can use this tool later to investigate new bills before Congress. For example, visit THOMAS and under the Current Activity heading, review what happened Yesterday in Congress. At which step is each of these bills in the process?

If you want to, hang out at the site a little longer to become a Time Traveler, take a Field Trip to Congress, or play in some Fun & Games.


Newspaper Activities

Look for bill names and numbers in The Sacramento Bee mentioned in news stories or opinion articles. At which step is each bill in the lawmaking process? Create a log sheet for each bill that lists the pros and cons of the bill being debated, as reported by the newspaper. Use the Research Legislation tool to locate the bill. Identify the bill's primary sponsor and any co-sponsors. On what date was the bill introduced? In small teams or as a whole class, create a large flowchart of the lawmaking process to post on the wall. As you identify each bill, create a paper "game" piece and write the bill number on it. Place the marker on the flowchart to show where the bill is in the process. Follow the progress of each bill in the newspaper for as long as possible. Keep running log notes to track the debate. Move the bill along the chart, as appropriate. As each bill moves through the process, discuss with classmates why it has or has not moved. If a bill gets passed, talk about how the new law will affect the nation's citizens.


Online Lessons

Each week The Bee publishes a new online lesson for teachers, students and families who use the Internet and newspaper as learning resources. The lessons are tied to current events in the news and help learners extend their knowledge on a wide range of topics. Click here to return to the table of contents.


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