top of page

How Our Laws Are Made

V. Introduction and Referral to Committee


Any Member, Delegate or the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico in the House of Representatives may introduce a bill at any time while the House is in session by simply placing it in the ‘‘hopper,’’ a wooden box provided for that purpose located on the side of the rostrum in the House Chamber. Permission is not required to introduce the measure. The Member introducing the bill is known as the primary sponsor. Except in the case of private bills, an unlimited number of Members may cosponsor a bill. To prevent the possibility that a bill might be introduced in the House on behalf of a Member without that Member’s prior approval, the primary sponsor’s signature must appear on the bill before it is accepted for introduction. Members who cosponsor a bill upon its date of introduction are original cosponsors. Members who cosponsor a bill after its introduction are additional cosponsors. Cosponsors are not required to sign the bill. A Member may not be added or deleted as a cosponsor after the bill has been reported by, or discharged from, the last committee authorized to consider it, and the Speaker may not entertain a request to delete the name of the primary sponsor at any time. Cosponsors’ names may be deleted by their own unanimous-consent request or that of the primary sponsor.


In the Senate, unlimited multiple sponsorship of a bill is permitted. A Member may insert the words ‘‘by request’’ after the Member’s name to indicate that the introduction of the measure is at the suggestion of some other person or group—usually the President or a member of his Cabinet.


In the Senate, a Senator usually introduces a bill or resolution by presenting it to one of the clerks at the Presiding Officer’s desk, without commenting on it from the floor of the Senate. However, a Senator may use a more formal procedure by rising and introducing the bill or resolution from the floor, usually accompanied by a statement about the measure. Frequently, Senators obtain consent to have the bill or resolution printed in the Congressional Record following their formal statement.


In the House of Representatives, it is no longer the custom to read bills—even by title—at the time of introduction. The title is entered in the Journal and printed in the Congressional Record, thus preserving the purpose of the custom. The bill is assigned its legislative number by the Clerk. The bill is then referred as required by the rules of the House to the appropriate committee or committees by the Speaker, with the assistance of the Parliamentarian. The bill number and committee referral appear in the next issue of the Congressional Record. It is then sent to the Government Printing Office where it is printed and copies are made available in the document rooms of both Houses. Printed and electronic versions of the bill are also made available to the public.


Copies of the bill are sent to the office of the chairman of each committee to which it has been referred. The clerk of the committee enters it on the committee’s Legislative Calendar.


Perhaps the most important phase of the legislative process is the action by committees. The committees provide the most intensive consideration to a proposed measure as well as the forum where the public is given their opportunity to be heard. A tremendous volume of work, often overlooked by the public, is done by the Members in this phase. There are, at present, 20 standing committees in the House and 16 in the Senate as well as several select committees. In addition, there are four standing joint committees of the two Houses, with oversight responsibilities but no legislative jurisdiction. The House may also create select committees or task forces to study specific issues and report on them to the House. A task force may be established formally through a resolution passed by the House or informally through organization of interested Members by the House leadership.


Each committee’s jurisdiction is defined by certain subject matter under the rules of each House and all measures are referred accordingly. For example, the Committee on the Judiciary in the House has jurisdiction over measures relating to judicial proceedings and 18 other categories, including constitutional amendments, immigration policy, bankruptcy, patents, copyrights, and trademarks. In total, the rules of the House and of the Senate each provide for over 200 different classifications of measures to be referred to committees. Until 1975, the Speaker of the House could refer a bill to only one committee. In modern practice, the Speaker may refer an introduced bill to multiple committees for consideration of those provisions of the bill within the jurisdiction of each committee concerned. Except in extraordinary circumstances, the Speaker must designate a primary committee of jurisdiction on bills referred to multiple committees. The Speaker may place time limits on the consideration of bills by all committees, but usually time limits are placed only on additional committees to which a bill has been referred following the report of the primary committee.


In the Senate, introduced measures and House-passed measures are referred to the one committee of preponderant jurisdiction by the Parliamentarian on behalf of the Presiding Officer. By special or standing order, a measure may be referred to more than one committee in the Senate.


Membership on the various committees is divided between the two major political parties. The proportion of the Members of the minority party to the Members of the majority party is determined by the majority party, except that half of the members on the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct are from the majority party and half from the minority party. The respective party caucuses nominate Members of the caucus to be elected to each standing committee at the beginning of each Congress. Membership on a standing committee during the course of a Congress is contingent on continuing membership in the party caucus that nominated a Member for election to the committee. If a Member ceases to be a Member of the party caucus, a Member automatically ceases to be a member of the standing committee.


Members of the House may serve on only two committees and four subcommittees with certain exceptions. However, the rules of the caucus of the majority party in the House provide that a Member may be chairman of only one subcommittee of a committee or select committee with legislative jurisdiction, except for certain committees performing housekeeping functions and joint committees.


A Member usually seeks election to the committee that has jurisdiction over a field in which the Member is most qualified and interested. For example, the Committee on the Judiciary traditionally is populated with numerous lawyers.


Members rank in seniority in accordance with the order of their appointment to the full committee and the ranking majority member with the most continuous service is often elected chairman. The rules of the House require that committee chairmen be elected from nominations submitted by the majority party caucus at the commencement of each Congress. No Member of the House may serve as chairman of the same standing committee or of the same subcommittee thereof for more than three consecutive Congresses, except in the case of the Committee on Rules.


The rules of the House provide that a committee may maintain no more than five committees, but may have an oversight committee as a sixth. The standing rules allow a greater number of subcommittees for the Committees on Appropriations and Oversight and Government Reform. In addition, the House may grant leave to certain committees to establish additional subcommittees during a given Congress.


Each committee is provided with a professional staff to assist it in the innumerable administrative details involved in the consideration of bills and its oversight responsibilities. For standing committees, the professional staff is limited to 30 persons appointed by a vote of the committee. Two-thirds of the committee staff are selected by a majority vote of the majority committee members and one-third of the committee staff are selected by a majority vote of minority committee members. All staff appointments are made without regard to race, creed, sex, or age. Minority staff requirements do not apply to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct because of its bipartisan nature. The Committee on Appropriations has special authority under the rules of the House for appointment of staff for the minority.

bottom of page