Legislature > How a Bill Becomes Law
How a Bill Becomes Law in Minnesota
The various offices of the Minnesota Legislature provide a variety of documents explaining how a bill becomes law in Minnesota. Several of the items on this page are in portable document format (.pdf). You will need the Adobe
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State Law Process -- This publication from House Public
Information Services gives examples of the need for new laws, a numbered list of steps a bill must go through, and a question and answer section.
Capitol Steps: From Idea to Law - A publication produced by the House of Representatives Public Information Office that explains how bills become laws.
How a Bill Becomes Law -- The Senate Publications office publishes this flow chart showing the steps a
bill must go through to become law.
Steps a Bill Goes Through to Become Law
Calendar for the Day
Questions and answers
A bill is an idea for a new law or an idea to change an old law.
Anyone can suggest an idea for a bill -- an individual, consumer group, professional
association, government agency, or the governor. Most often, however, ideas come
from legislators, the only ones who can begin to move an idea through the process.
There are 134 House members and 67 senators.
The Office of the Revisor of Statutes and staff from other legislative
offices work with legislators in putting the idea for a new law into proper legal
form. The revisor's office is responsible for assuring that the proposal's form
complies with the rules of both bodies before the bill can be introduced into the
Minnesota House of Representatives and the Minnesota Senate.
Each bill must have a legislator to sponsor and introduce it in
the Legislature. That legislator is the chief author whose name appears on the bill
along with the bill's file number to identify it as it moves through the legislative
process. There may be up to 34 coauthors from the House and four from the Senate.
Their names also appear on the bill.
The chief House author of the bill introduces it in the House; the
chief Senate author introduces it in the Senate. Identical bills introduced in each
body are called companion bills. The bill introduction is called the first reading.
The presiding officer of the House then refers it to an appropriate House committee
for discussion; the same thing happens in the Senate.
The bill is discussed in one or more committees depending upon the
subject matter. After discussion, committee members recommend action -- approval
or disapproval -- to the full House and full Senate. The House committee then sends
a report to the House about its action on the bill; the Senate committee does likewise
in the Senate.
After the full House or Senate accepts the committee report, the
bill has its second reading and is placed on the House agenda called the General
Register or the Senate agenda called General Orders. (A committee can recommend
that non-controversial bills bypass the General Register or General Orders and go
onto the Consent Calendar, where bills usually pass without debate.) After this
point, House and Senate procedures differ slightly.
In the House, the General
Register serves as a parking lot where
bills await action by the full body. Bills chosen to appear on the Calendar for
the Day or the Fiscal Calendar are drawn from the General Register.
In the Senate, a different procedure is used. Bills are listed on
the General Orders agenda. Senate members, acting as the "committee of the whole,"
have a chance to debate the issue and offer amendments on the bill. Afterwards,
they vote to recommend: passage of the bill, progress (delay action), or further
committee action. And sometimes they recommend that a bill not pass. From here,
the bill is placed on the Calendar.
In the House, the Calendar for the Day is a list of bills the House
Rules and Legislative Administration Committee has designated for the full House
to vote on. Members can vote to amend the bill, and after amendments are dispensed
with, the bill is given its third reading before the vote of the full body is taken.
The House also has a Fiscal Calendar, on which the chair of the House Ways and Means
Committee or House Taxes Committee can call up for consideration any tax or finance
bill that has had a second reading. The bills are debated, amended, and passed in
In the Senate, bills approved by the "committee of the whole" are
placed on the Calendar. At this point, the bill has its third reading, after which
time the bill cannot be amended unless the entire body agrees to it. Toward the
end of the session, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration designates
bills from the General Orders calendar to receive priority consideration. These
Special Orders bills are debated, amended, and passed in one day. A bill needs 68
votes to pass the House and 34 votes to pass the Senate. If the House and Senate
each pass the same version of the bill, it goes to the governor for a signature.
Toward the end of the session, the rules committee of the House
and the Majority Leader of the Senate may designate bills from the General Orders
to receive priority consideration in their respective bodies. These Special Orders
bills are debated, amended, and passed in one day. The House also has a Rule 1.10
calendar which allows the chairs of the Taxes and Appropriations committees to call
up for consideration any tax or appropriations bill that has had a second reading.
These Rule 1.10 bills are debated, amended, and passed in one day.
If the House and Senate versions of the bill are different, they
go to a conference committee. In the House, the speaker appoints three or five representatives,
and in the Senate, the Subcommittee on Committees of the Committee on Rules and
Administration selects the same number of senators to form the committee. The committee
meets to work out differences in the two bills and to reach a compromise.
The conference committee's compromise bill then goes back to the
House and the Senate for another vote. If both bodies pass the bill in this form,
it is sent to the governor for his or her approval or disapproval. (If one or both
bodies reject the report, it goes back to the conference committee for further consideration.)
Once the governor has the bill, he or she may: sign it, and the
bill becomes law; veto it within three days; or allow it to become law by not signing
it. During session, the House and Senate can override a governor's veto. This requires
a two-thirds vote in the House (90 votes) and Senate (45 votes). The governor also
may "line-item veto" parts of a money bill, or "pocket veto" a bill passed during
the last three days of the session by not signing it within 14 days after final
- How are bills amended?
Bills going through the Legislature are often amended, which can greatly change
the thrust of a bill.
Most often legislators make amendments to bills when they are
being considered in committee. Committee members are usually well-versed in
the subjects of the bills, and they have the time at this point to consider
making changes. Legislators can also amend bills when they reach the House or
Senate floor. In both cases, amendments are adopted by a majority vote.
Generally, the legislator offering the amendment will have the
proposal drafted by legislative staff before offering it for discussion.
- What are first, second, and third readings?
A "reading" is the presentation of a bill before either body
when the bill title is read. Bills must have three readings, one on each of
three separate days, before they can receive final approval. Each of these readings
is a stage in the enactment of a measure. Exceptions can occur, however, if
the rules are suspended.
The Minnesota Constitution outlines this procedure to ensure
that legislators know exactly what bills are before them, and to allow time
for legislators to study the proposals.
The first reading occurs when a bill author introduces a bill
on the House or Senate floor, after which it is sent to a committee for consideration.
The second reading occurs when either body finishes committee
action on a bill and it is sent to the floor. This happens in advance of the
floor debate on the bill.
The third reading occurs immediately preceding the final vote
on the bill.
Even though the Minnesota Constitution requires this process,
it permits legislators to dispense with the rule when necessary.
- What happens to bills remaining on calendars at the end of
the first session of a biennium?
Bills of this nature are returned to the last committee from
which they were reported to the floor. But before they can be reported to the
floor in the succeeding year, the committee must again recommend action.
- Are there any legislative deadlines?
Bills can be introduced at any time during a session, but there
are committee deadlines after which a bill will no longer be considered that
Committee deadlines are announced during the first half of a
session in order to winnow the list of topics to be dealt with that year. The
first deadline requires bills to have been approved by all policy committees
in either the House or Senate in order to be considered further that session.
The second deadline sets a date after which bills will not be
considered unless they have passed through all policy committees of both bodies.
The third deadline is the date by which the Senate Finance Committee and House
Ways and Means Committee must have approved their omnibus appropriation bills.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule; these deadlines
generally do not apply to tax and appropriations bills.
- How do legislators vote on various issues?
Although people frequently call and ask for a legislator's "voting
record," no such complete document exists. In reality, each legislator casts
hundreds of votes on assorted bills that are subsequently recorded in the Journal
of the House. The Senate has a comparable journal.
If you want to know how a legislator voted on a specific bill,
the House Index Office ((651) 296-6646) and the Senate Information Office ((651) 296-0504 or 1-888-234-1112) can help you.
Probably the best way to get a feel for a legislator's voting
record is to contact any number of special interest groups that rate legislators
based on issues that are important to them. Several business associations and
environmental groups, for example, issue regular ratings.
- When do new laws go into effect?
Most new laws go into effect on Aug. 1 following a legislative
session unless a bill specifies another date. Exceptions are bills that contain
an appropriation, which become effective July 1, the same date the fiscal year
- What is an omnibus bill?
An omnibus bill is a large bill that includes several different
issues under one general topic such as education. It's usually an appropriations
bill, contains many pages, and is often comprised of several individual bills.
Legislators often say the smaller bills are "rolled into" the larger one.
Text by the Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services Office. 03/29/2000