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Legislation refers to the preparation and enactment of laws by a legislative body through its lawmaking process. The legislative process includes evaluating, amending, and voting on proposed laws and is concerned with the words used in the bill to communicate the values, judgments, and purposes of the proposal. An idea becomes an item of legislative business when it is written as a bill. A bill is a draft, or tentative version, of what might become part of the written law. A bill that is enacted is called an act or statute.

Ideas for legislation can come from legislators who have experience in a particular field, or legislators can copy legislation because an idea that works well in one jurisdiction can be useful to its neighbors. Legislators also receive proposals from the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, also known as the Uniform Law Commission (ULC); a conference of 250 lawyers appointed by governors to represent the states. The Council of State Governments, the American Law Institute, the American Bar Association, and numerous other organizations all produce model acts for legislatures. Protection and promotion of social and economic interests of particular groups also motivate legislation. Interest groups usually become involved in the legislative process through lobbyists.

The general procedure of enactment of legislation is governed by the relevant constitution. When a bill is first introduced by a sponsor it is referred to a committee. If the bill must go through more than one committee, the first committee must refer it to the second. To accommodate interested and affected groups and to eliminate technical defects a bill can be amended. If the committee recommends that the bill be passed, the bill is placed on the agenda for action by the full legislative body, or floor action. After a lengthy and complex procedure of deliberation and debates, legislators vote on the final passage of the bill. In bicameral legislatures (legislatures that are divided into two bodies as Senate and House in the United States government) the bill must be passed through both houses in exactly the same form to become the law. When the two houses cannot agree on a final form for the bill, a complex procedure of compromise is attempted. Once the bill is approved by both houses and is put into final form, it must be signed by the executive. An executive can refuse to sign a bill and can return it to the legislature with a veto message explaining why. If the executive signs the bill, it is filed and becomes law.

Federal Material:

U.S. Constitution

  • Article I, Section 7 - Passage of Bills  
  • Article V - The Amendment Process 

U.S. Code

  • 1 U.S.C. - General Provisions
  • 2 U.S.C. - The Congress

Federal Judicial Decisions

  • U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton

Federal Legislative Bodies

  • U.S. House
  • U.S. Senate

State Resources

[Last updated in June of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]