How Our Laws Are Made
V. Introduction and Reference to Committee
Any Member, the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico, or the Delegates in the House of Representatives may introduce a bill at any time while
the House is in session by simply placing it in the "hopper,"
a wooden box provided for that purpose located on the side of the rostrum
in the House Chamber. Permission is not required to introduce the measure.
Printed blank forms for an original bill are available through the Clerk's
office. The Member introducing the bill is known as the sponsor. An unlimited
number of Members may co-sponsor a bill. To prevent the possibility that
a bill might be introduced in the House on behalf of a Member without that
Member's prior approval, the sponsor's signature must appear on the bill
before it is accepted for introduction. Members who co-sponsor a bill upon
its date of introduction are original co-sponsors. Members who co-sponsor
a bill after its introduction are additional co-sponsors. Co-sponsors are
not required to sign the bill. A Member may not be added or deleted as
a co-sponsor after the bill has been reported by the last committee authorized
to consider it, but in no event shall the Speaker entertain a request to
delete the name of the sponsor. In the Senate, unlimited multiple sponsorship
of a bill is permitted. Occasionally, a Member may insert the words "by
request" after the Member's name to indicate that the introduction
of the measure is at the suggestion of some other person or group.
In the Senate, a Senator usually introduces a bill or resolution
by presenting it to one of the clerks at the Presiding Officer's desk,
without commenting on it from the floor of the Senate. However, a Senator
may use a more formal procedure by rising and introducing the bill or resolution
from the floor. A Senator usually makes a statement about the measure when
introducing it on the floor. Frequently, Senators obtain consent to have
the bill or resolution printed in the body of the Congressional Record
following their formal statement.
If any Senator objects to the introduction of a bill or resolution,
the introduction of the bill or resolution is postponed until the next
day. If there is no objection, the bill is read by title and referred to
the appropriate committee.
In the House of Representatives, it is no longer the custom to read
bills -- even by title -- at the time of introduction. The title is entered
in the Journal and printed in the Congressional Record, thus preserving
the purpose of the custom. The bill is assigned its legislative number
by the Clerk. The bill is then referred as required by the rules
of the House to the appropriate committees by the Speaker, the Member
elected to be the Presiding Officer of the House, with the assistance of
the Parliamentarian. The bill number and its referral appear in the next
issue of the Congressional Record. It is then sent to the Government
Printing Office where it is printed in its introduced form and printed
copies are made available in the document rooms of both Houses. Printed
and electronic versions of the bill are also made available to the public.
Copies of the bill are sent to the office of the chairman of the
committee to which it has been referred. The clerk of the committee enters
it on the committee's Legislative Calendar.
Perhaps the most important phase of the legislative process is the
action by committees. The committees provide the most intensive consideration
to a proposed measure as well as the forum where the public is given their
opportunity to be heard. A tremendous volume of work is done by the Members
in this phase and is sometimes overlooked by the public. There are, at
present, 19 standing committees in the House and 16 in the Senate as well
as several select committees. In addition, there are four standing joint
committees of the two Houses, that have oversight responsibilities but
no legislative jurisdiction. The House may also create select committees
or task forces to study specific issues and report on them to the House.
A task force may be established formally through a resolution passed by
the House or informally through an organization of interested Members and
committees by House leadership.
Each committee's jurisdiction is divided into certain subject matters
under the rules of each House and all measures affecting a particular area
of the law are referred to the committee with jurisdiction over the particular
subject matter. For example, the Committee on the Judiciary in the House
has jurisdiction over measures relating to judicial proceedings generally,
and 17 other categories, including constitutional amendments, immigration
and naturalization, bankruptcy, patents, copyrights, and trademarks. In
total, the rules of the House and [rules] of the Senate each provide for over 200 different classifications of
measures to be referred to committees. Until 1975, the Speaker of the House
could refer a bill to only one committee. In modern practice, the Speaker
may refer an introduced bill to multiple committees for consideration of
those provisions of the bill within the jurisdiction of each committee
concerned. The Speaker must designate a primary committee of jurisdiction
on bills referred to multiple committees. The Speaker may place time limits
on the consideration of bills by all committees, but usually time limits
are placed only on additional committees. Additional committees are committees
other than the primary committee to which a bill has been referred, either
initially on its introduction or sequentially following the report of the
primary committee. A time limit would be placed on an additional committee
only when the primary committee has reported its version to the House.
Membership on the various committees is divided between the two major
political parties. The proportion of the Members of the minority party
to the Members of the majority party is determined by the majority party,
except that half of the members on the Committee on Standards of Official
Conduct are from the majority party and half from the minority party. The
respective party caucuses nominate Members of the caucus to be elected
to each standing committee at the beginning of each Congress. Membership
on a standing committee during the course of a Congress is contingent on
continuing membership in the party caucus that nominated the Member for
election to the committee. If the Member ceases to be a Member of the party
caucus, the Member automatically ceases to be a member of the standing
Members of the House may serve on only two committees and four subcommittees
with certain exceptions. However, the rules of the caucus of the majority
party in the House provide that a Member may be chairman of only one subcommittee
of a committee or select committee with legislative jurisdiction, except
for certain committees performing housekeeping functions and joint committees.
A Member usually seeks election to the committee that has jurisdiction
over a field in which the Member is most qualified and interested. For
example, the Committee on the Judiciary traditionally is composed almost
entirely of lawyers. Many Members are nationally recognized experts in
the specialty of their particular committee or subcommittee.
Members rank in seniority in accordance with the order of their appointment
to the full committee and the ranking majority member with the most continuous
service is usually elected chairman. The rules of the House require that
committee chairmen be elected from nominations submitted by the majority
party caucus at the commencement of each Congress. No Member of the House
may serve as chairman of the same standing committee or of the same subcommittee
thereof for more than three consecutive Congresses.
The rules of the House prohibit committees from having more than
five subcommittees with the exception of the Committee on Appropriations,
the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, and the Committee on
Transportation and Infrastructure.
Each committee is provided with a professional staff to assist it
in the innumerable administrative details and problems involved in the
consideration of bills and conduct of oversight. For standing committees,
the professional staff is limited to 30 persons appointed by a vote of
the committee. Two-thirds of the committee staff are selected by a majority
vote of the majority committee members and one-third of the committee staff
are selected by a majority vote of minority committee members. All staff
appointments are made without regard to race, creed, sex, or age. The minority
staff provisions do not apply to the Committee on Standards of Official
Conduct because of its bipartisan nature. The Committee on Appropriations
has special authority under the rules of the House for appointment of staff
for the minority.
Under certain conditions, a standing committee may appoint consultants
on a temporary or intermittent basis. The committee may also provide financial
assistance to members of its professional staff for the purpose of acquiring
specialized training, whenever the committee determines that such training
will aid the committee in the discharge of its responsibilities.
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