Have you ever wondered how governance works? How do we get ruled by politicians? Why are we obliged to obey laws made by the government? Read along as we dive into “how bills become laws.”
Every law out there, from civil to criminal laws, you name it, has gone through different processes before becoming a ‘law.’
First of all, what’s a bill? A bill is a proposed law that is before the legislature for approval. Think of it as a draft or an idea for a new societal direction. And while anyone can suggest a new law, only a member of the legislature can present it on the floor of the Senate or the House of Representatives.
A bill can either come from the President (Executive Bill), a member of the House of Representatives member (House Bill), or a Senator (Senate Bill). It then goes through various stages in both chambers of the National Assembly before becoming a law.
Before a bill begins its legislative journey, it is presented to the Speaker of the House of Representatives or President of the Senate as the case may be. The presiding officer (Speaker or Senate President) then refers it to the Committee on Rules and Business to review it and determine whether or not it is suitable for legislative actions. Where it is not deemed suitable, it is sent to the National Assembly’s Legal department for revisions. Then, the committee schedules it for legislative action.
Now, let’s dive into the 7 steps for bills to become laws!
Gazetting the Bill
The journey of making a law begins with gazetting. Transparency is vital in a democracy, and this step ensures that the public is aware of the proposed law or amendment to a law. The bill is published after initial review and before the legislature considers it. This way, the public share their views and provide written feedback in favor of or against the bill.
First Reading – official entry
This stage is simply the introduction of the bill on the floor of the chamber. The Clerk of the House or Senate typically reads the bill’s short title at a scheduled time and then tables it in front of the Speaker or Senate President.
Second Reading – debate on general principles
Now that both the lawmakers and the public are aware of the bill, it’s time to debate its general principles and benefits. Here, the presiding officer announces the bill and calls on the sponsor (a lawmaker) to move for it to be read a second time, and members debate it. At the end of the debate, the presiding office subjects the bill to a vote. If more members vote in favor of the bill, it passes a second reading. If there are more votes against it, it gets rejected, which becomes the bill’s end.
When the bill scales through a second reading, it is referred to a relevant committee of the House or Senate for further legislative work, which includes a public hearing. During this stage, the committee may amend or even block it if it deems it necessary. The most important thing to note at this stage is the opportunity for members of the public to make inputs (for or against) the bill; this is where citizen participation in governance is expressed. So guys, don’t sleep on it – seize every opportunity to contribute to the process for bills to become laws.
After the committee works on the bill, it presents its report to the House or Senate for onward consideration.
Consideration of report
This stage entails a clause-by-clause consideration and possible amendment to the proposed bill by all lawmakers present at the plenary. For a report to be considered, the House or Senate must dissolve into the Committee of the Whole. Note that the Committee of the Whole is different from the Standing Committees. I’ll tell you more about this in another piece – but to keep your flow, it suffices to know that the committee of the whole is one that every lawmaker serves in and is chaired by the Deputy President of the Senate or the Deputy Speaker of the House as the case may be.
After consideration, the bill progresses to the next stage – the third reading.
Third Reading – the bill is passed!
Amendments are rarely made during the third reading. Before the bill is read a third time, a member is called to move a motion for the bill to be read a third time after which it is put to vote. Again, if the majority favors the bill, it is read a third time. The bill is billed to have been passed at this stage
Concurrence or Harmonization
Following the passage, a clean copy of the bill, signed by the Clerk of the House of origin, is transmitted to the other chamber via its Clerk for concurrence. Where there is no disagreement or objections by the receiving chamber, it passes the bill and the proposal is deemed to be passed by the National Assembly.
However, if there is an area of disagreement or variation in the provisions of the bill by both chambers, a Conference Committee, whose members are drawn from both chambers, is set up to reconcile the difference and harmonise the positions of both chambers into one agreed copy.
After that, a report of the Conference Committee is sent to both chambers for consideration. If adopted, the bill is sent to the Clerk of the chamber of origin, and a clean copy is sent to the Clerk of the National Assembly for enrolment and onward transmission to the President for assent.
Assent by the President
The final step for bills to become laws largely rests with the President. The bill doesn’t become a law until it is signed by the number one citizen of the country. However, the President has 30 days, upon receipt, to sign the bill.
Within the 30-day window, the President may veto the bill by withholding signature if, there are areas or provisions of the bill they disagree with.
If assent is withheld, the President will communicate reasons to the National Assembly and request an amendment. If this is agreed upon by the National Assembly, the bill is withdrawn for the amendments to be made, after which the bill is returned to the President for assent.
Conversely, if the National Assembly disagrees with the President, it is empowered by the Constitution to overrule the veto with a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers, making the bill a law without the President’s signature.
And that’s it!
Phew! It seems like a lot of work but the journey of how bills become laws – from proposal to binding instrument – reflects the democratic values and principles of our country, to ensure laws are effective, and in the best interest of the people.
Hopefully, this piece spurs you to exercise your right as a citizen to participate in the law-making process – which is what inspires us at OrderPaper Nigeria to help bridge the gap between people and parliament.