Senate Bill

What Is a Senate Bill?

A Senate bill is a piece of proposed legislation that either originates or is modified in the United States Senate. Bills come from ideas before they are written and presented to the appropriate committee and to the Senate for debate. Senators then work together and negotiate the terms of the bill. A bill can't become law unless it receives majority approval in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and is approved by the President of the United States.

Key Takeaways

  • A Senate bill is a proposed law sponsored by the United States Senate.
  • Proposals are debated in Committee and if approved, it advances to the Senate floor for a broader discussion and to potentially be put up for a vote by the whole Senate.
  • Some Senate bills are added as amendments to already existing bills in order to limit the number of bills and speed up the legislative process.
  • In order to become a law, a bill must also receive approval in the House of Representatives and then be approved by the President of the United States.
  • Certain approved Senate bills must be reauthorized, especially those that require program funding.

How a Senate Bill Works

Senate bills are introduced when a Senator sponsors or modifies a bill sponsored in the House of Representatives. Senators often generate the ideas behind bills they sponsor by listening to their constituents. After a Senate bill is drafted and introduced in the Senate Chamber, it is entered in the Senate Journal, given a number, printed, and delivered to an appropriate committee for debate.

A committee is a small group of Senators who meet to discuss, research, and make changes to the bill before it goes to a vote. The bill may be sent to a subcommittee for further research, discussion, and changes before being voted on before it either moves on or dies on the Senate floor.

A bill that is reported out of the Senate or House Committee, is sent to the respective full house for debates and voting. During this stage of the process, both the House and Senate can debate the merits of the bill, and propose any amendments. If either the Senate or the House passes the bill, it is sent to the other chamber for a vote.

Any amendments to the bill during this process are also subject to being voted on. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives must agree on the final version of the bill before it can be sent to the President for approval. In order to become law, a Senate bill must win majority approval in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Once that is achieved, it must then be approved by the President of the United States.

All Senate bills are labeled with an "S" and are then followed by numbers.

Special Considerations

As noted above, a bill moves from the Senate to the House. If it receives approval from the House, it goes up to the White House, where it lands on the President's desk. The President can take any of these four actions:

  1. Approve and pass the bill by signing it, making it a law.
  2. Veto the bill, reject it, and return it to Congress. Congress can then choose to override a presidential veto but would need a two-thirds majority of those present in both the House and Senate.
  3. Take no action and the bill becomes law after 10 days.
  4. If Congress adjourns within those 10 days, the President can perform a pocket veto, in which they refuse to sign the bill and it does not become law.

Once laws are in effect, they may require reauthorization. This is especially true for those that need funding for programs. Provisions are put into place when these laws are signed, allowing Congress to review the effectiveness of the law and whether it needs to be reauthorized after some time. If so, a new bill is put forth. It includes any revisions along with a proposed timeline for its existence.

Example of a Senate Bill

Sponsored by Sen. Marie Hirono (D-HI), the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was introduced on the Senate floor on March 23, 2021. The bill, identified as S.937, cited an increase in "hate crimes and violence against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders" in the United States following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill had 44 cosponsors and went through 47 amendments. It passed from the Senate floor, receiving 60 affirmative votes the following month. In May 2021, the bill moved through the House and on to the White House where it was signed by the President. The bill became public law on May 20, 2021.

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  2. U.S. House of Representatives. "The Legislative Process."

  3. U.S. Senate. "Types of Legislation."

  4. U.S. Government Publishing Office. "Veto of Bills," Pages 873-874.

  5. Tom Carper U.S. Senator for Delaware. "HOW A BILL BECOMES A LAW."

  6. "S.937 - COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act: Actions."

  7. "S.937 - COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act: Text."

  8. "S.937 - COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act: Cosponsors."

  9. "S.937 - COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act: Amendments."