June 3, 2010

In our continuing effort to help members of The American Legion family in their efforts to follow and understand congressional actions, we now present a brief discussion concerning what happens to a piece of legislation after its passage by Congress, and how it can be tracked using THOMAS.

During the process of going from one congressional chamber to the other, some errors occur when the different versions of the same bill are handled by both the House and Senate. Once a bill has been passed by both chambers, it often undergoes some legislative housekeeping known as enrollment. This means that a bill will be scrutinized by the clerks of the last chamber handling the legislation, ensuring that language, punctuation and the like are properly used, as well as the exact language agreed to by both House and Senate are included in the final version. In the House, the Enrolling Clerk of the House has this job, while the Secretary of the Senate assumes a similar task in that chamber.

This process may take as little as one or two days or, if a bill is particularly lengthy or complex, it may take much longer. Though not likely, it is not unusual for a month or more to pass before a bill is finally enrolled. After a bill is enrolled, it is signed by both the Speaker of the House and the vice president acting in his constitutional role as President of the Senate. By tradition, the speaker signed the enrolled bill first, no matter from which chamber the bill originated. Only then will the legislation leave Capitol Hill for the next step in its journey - enactment.

Once the bill is signed by the Speaker and the President of the Senate, it is sent to the White House for the president's signature. Under the Constitution, the president has 10 days - not including Sundays - to examine the bill and decide how he will proceed. He has several options:

• He can sign the bill, whereupon it becomes the "law of the land." Also, if the bill is not signed within the 10-day time period, the legislation becomes law without the president's signature. [This is how the Flag Protection Act of 1989 (P.L. 101-131) became law, before it was declared unconstitutional.]

• He can veto the bill, sending it back to Congress. Usually, the president will send a veto message with the rejected legislation, stating his reasons why he will not sign the bill. Congress then has the option of accepting the president's explanation, or it can try to override his veto. This is accomplished by both chambers holding recorded votes. If two thirds of the members of both the House and Senate vote to override the president's veto, the measure becomes law without the president's signature. This does not occur often.

• Finally, the president can use a pocket veto. This action is used when the president receives a bill and Congress has adjourned. If used in this manner, a pocket veto is not subject to being overridden. This procedure is also not often used.

Tracking action on a bill after it has passed both the House and Senate will require you to return to the results Web page for the original bill. The link entitled "All Congressional Actions" will give you the information you need to know. Also, if you know the public law number for your legislation, you can use the hyperlink "Public Laws" on the main page of THOMAS. Clicking on that link will take you to a result page which lists all public laws in numerical order.


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