Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates
Protecting the Legal and Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities
How a Bill Becomes Law
Under the United States Constitution, the Congress has the power to enact legislation (laws). It is important to advocate with Congress for laws that better protect the rights of people with disabilities.
The Congress consists of the House and Senate. Most people are represented by two Senators from their state and one Representative (or Congressman) from their Congressional district. There are 100 Senators and 435 Representatives. The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico do not have Senators but do have a delegate in the House of Representatives.
The Congressional Process. Congress has the power to enact legislation, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and No Child Left Behind Act. Laws begin as bills. A bill may be introduced by a Representative or Senator. After introduction, it is assigned to a Committee. The primary Committees that handle education and disability issues are the House Education and Labor Committeeand the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee. After a Committee approves a bill, it goes to the "floor” of the House or Senate, where members vote on it. (Some bills can bypass Committees and be tacked onto another piece of legislation, an increasingly common development today.) A bill must pass both House and Senate to become law. If the House and Senate adopt different versions of a bill, they must either be reconciled in a Conference Committee or one body must defer to the other. After a bill passes both House and Senate, it goes to the President, who may sign it or veto (reject) it. Once a bill is signed by the President, it becomes law. If the President vetoes a bill, it generally takes 2/3 of the House and Senate to override the veto.
The U.S. Congress has its own procedures, which can differ from procedures in state legislatures. For example, many states require hearings on bills before they may advance from Committee. Hearings are not required in Congress, and bills can advance at various points.
Each term of Congress lasts for two years; a term is subdivided into two one-year sessions. The 111th Congress convened on January 6, 2009 and it will expire January 3, 2011. All of the bills that are introduced in a Congressional term but not enacted into law before it ends die. They must be reintroduced in the next Congressional term.
The Library of Congress maintains information on bills after they are introduced, including full copies of the bill. To find information on a particular bill, visit the Library of Congress website.
For more information on the Congressional process, see the House website.
Congress listens to voters and their views. Effective citizen involvement is the key to protecting the rights of children with disabilities. Parents, attorneys, advocates, and others can write or call Congress to advocate for appropriate educations for students with disabilities.
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