Seminar “Legislative Process in the United States: Procedures, Steps and the Role of Public”

On May 29, 2018, a seminar on “The US Legislative Process: Procedures, Steps and the Role of Public” was held in Kyiv with the participation of Jacob Ventura, US Attorney, Legal Adviser to the Representative Stephen Hewitt at the United States Legislative Office, Massachusetts.

The event was organized by the Agency for Legislative Initiatives in co-operation with the The Center for Innovation Development and the Interns’ League under the Professional Fellows Program, administered by the American Councils for International Education with the support of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State.

Jacob Ventura has an extensive work experience at the Massachusetts Legislative Office (USA); he also provided legal assistance in reforming the ethical standards of the French judicial system. In addition, Mr. Ventura was a member of the rule-making teams of elected representatives both at the state level and at the federal level.

During the seminar, Jacob Ventura outlined the peculiarities of governance in the United States, key competences and principles for the functioning of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government; he also described in detail the legislative process in the United States: from the idea for a bill and until its final vote. In addition, he revealed the peculiarities of work and interaction of the government with the non-governmental organizations in the United States.

“The separate but equal branches of government was derived from the Massachusetts Constitution, approved in 1780 and drafted by John Adams. It is the oldest written constitution in continuous effect in the world”, – Jacob Ventura said.

Idea for a Bill

Someone will have an idea for a bill as a result of a public policy need or a need to update or repeal a current law already in existence. Often times members of the legislature and their staff (House or Senate) will have the idea. Other times, a constituent, a citizen of the district will have an idea based on a societal or individual need. NGOs, lobbyist, businesses, non-profits, health care, industry, education, transportation and other groups will have an idea for the bill and propose it to a member of the legislature.

Generally, NGOs, lobbyists, constituents and organizations will directly lobby their Representative or Senator. Often times, larger organizations will lobby many legislators to get the necessary support for or opposition to a bill. Depending on the issue, and in many cases, just as many people are for a bill as are against the same bill. In this case, a particular legislator must weigh the pros and cons to voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for the bill. Considerations include how their particular district feels about the bill and the prospects of re-election during the next cycle; special interest political funding; personal relationships with the particular parties lobbying; the merits of the bill and the likelihood of legislative success; influence from party leadership in the legislature.

  Components of the legislative process:

  1. File the bill. Once a legislator receives the idea for the bill, he or she will generally have their staff draft the language for the bill. Both members of the Senate and the House of Representatives may file bills in their respective chambers. The Executive (President or Governor) may also file a bill that can be sent directly to the legislature for consideration.
  2. Committee Hearing. Many bills that are filed never make it to a hearing. In some states, every bill filed must have an opportunity to be assigned to a committee for pubic testimony. Bills are assigned to committees based on issue areas. Once a bill has been assigned to a committee, the committee leadership will schedule a hearing on the bill sometime during the legislative session. Hearing rules are determined by committee membership. Generally, experts and concerned parties will be allowed to testify to the committee on the bill at hand, either for the bill or against the bill. After a bill has been heard at a committee hearing and all testimony has been submitted, the Committee will often take a private poll of the members and leadership to determine the level of support for the bill.
  3. Debates.
  4. Conference. In the U.S. Congress, there are 435 members of the House of Representative apportioned by population throughout the states. There are 100 U.S. Senators in the upper chamber, each state getting equal representation in this body, 2 Senators per state. In State Legislatures, the number of House and Senate members may vary. Generally, simple majorities are required for bill approval however there are hundreds of procedures and rules in each body that could lift the requirements for particular actions.
  5. Final Legislative Vote. Once a bill has finally passed both chambers for final approval after conference, the House and the Senate, it is sent to the Executive Branch.
  6. Executive Approval / Veto. The President of the United States owns the right of legislative approval or a veto at the Federal Government level. In any of the state governments, the executive is the Governor. The Executive is prescribed a certain amount of time to sign a bill in to law. The President has 10 days to sign the bill in to law or veto. Many governors have line-item veto power which allows them to change only portions of the bill or budget. The President does not have line-item veto power. The President must sign the entire bill in to law, or veto it, sending it back to the Congress for reconsideration. The President can also refuse to sign a bill but still allow it to become law.
  7. Legislative Override of Veto. Usually, if the Executive fails to sign a bill, the bill is automatically vetoed. If the legislature disagrees with the executive’s veto, both chambers must re-vote to override the veto (usually by a 2/3 majority in each chamber). This is a very tough task and high threshold at the federal government level and in many states.
  8. Constitutional Challenges. Once a bill becomes a law, citizens, members of the legislature and even the executive may challenge the law on constitutional grounds. The third, and often times most important branch of the U.S. government, the Judicial branch will decide if the law is to remain valid and if people’s constitutional rights are violated.

NGOs in the United States

Article 71 of the Charter of the newly formed United Nations first defined ‘non-governmental organization’ in 1945. An NGO can be any kind of organization so long as it is independent from government influence and it is not-for-profit. There are approximately 10 million NGO organizations world-wide. Global Journal. There are 1.5 million NGOs in the United States that employ approximately 11.4 million Americans. According to the CAAF World Giving Index, nearly 31.5 percent of people worldwide donated to a charity/NGO in 2015 and 24 percent volunteered for one. According to Walden University, 80 percent of citizens across the globe believe that NGOs make it easier to be involved in positive social change.

NGOs address a variety of issues including women’s rights, human rights, economic development, political rights, health care, environmental regulation, the battling of disease, and increasing the standards of living for the most vulnerable populations.

NGOs play a critical role in advocating for changes in law, policy, procedure and administrative rules. NGOs are effective in highlighting the stories of individuals they serve. This direct contact and evidence gives elected officials an important perspective that policy on paper often cannot. NGOs must determine the ability of its organization to be a successful advocate for its cause. NGOs must strategically ‘pick their battles’ to determine if a cause should become a legislative priority (considerations are timing, funding, will of Congress, current events, and likelihood at success).