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How Policies to Protect People with Asthma and Allergies Become Law

Empowering Asthma and Allergy Advocates: Understanding the Legislative Process

At the heart of every public policy victory are advocates. Advocates tell their stories to inspire legislators to make their issues a priority. Advocacy efforts may seem daunting though if you do not understand the legislative process.

State Government 101

States have three branches of government: the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch.

Legislative Branch

  • State Senate
  • State House of Representatives or Assembly

Executive Branch

  • Governor
  • State agencies

Judicial Branch

  • State Supreme Court
  • Lower courts

Lawmaking, or the process in which laws are enacted, brings the legislative and executive branches together to set policy.

What Is a State Legislature?

A state legislature is the legislative branch in a U.S. state. It is responsible for making laws, enacting budgets, and overseeing the functioning of the state government. State legislatures typically consist of two chambers: a lower chamber (often called the House of Representatives or Assembly) and an upper chamber (often called the Senate). Nebraska is the only state with one chamber in its state legislature.

Legislatures differ from state to state. Some have full-time state legislators. Others have citizen legislators where the salary for serving is low and legislators have other full-time occupations. With a few exceptions, legislatures meet every year. Some meet for a limited time, as few as 90 days.

The majority party sets the policy agenda and fiscal priorities for each chamber and can make for a powerful voting bloc. It has the most members on a committee (potentially the most votes) and gets to appoint committee chairs.

What Is a Committee?

A committee is a subgroup of legislators formed within the state legislature to focus on specific issues, topics, or areas of legislation. Committees play a crucial role in the legislative process by examining proposed bills, conducting hearings to gather information and testimony, amending bills as needed, and making recommendations to the full chamber regarding whether to pass or reject them.

State legislative committees are typically organized based on subject matter expertise or functional areas of government, such as education, health care, transportation, finance, judiciary, and so on. Each committee is chaired by a member of the majority party and includes members from both the majority and minority parties.

The Legislative Process: How an Idea Becomes a Law

This process is similar from state to state. The process shown here is simplified – it shows the bill being successful at every decision point. This almost never happens. If the bill is “voted down” or not considered at any point in the process below, the result will be delay or failure.

  • The bill is drafted. Either House or Senate may consider at the same or different times.
  • The bill is introduced in House or Senate, sent to a committee. House/Senate Committee passes bill. The bill is either sent to another committee where the process repeats or to the House/Senate floor for vote.
  • House/Senate passes bill, sends to the other body- Senate/House.
  • In a similar process: The Bill introduced in the other body, then sent to a committee; committee passes and it is sent to the floor for vote.
  • After passing both Senate and House, the bill is sent to Governor. Governor signs the bill into law.

The process can be challenging. Not every draft proposal becomes a bill and not every bill gets a hearing. Not every bill that gets a hearing gets voted on and not every bill that gets voted on passes. In fact, only about 20% of bills introduced at the state level become law.1

Federal Government 101

The federal government also has three branches of government: the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch.

Legislative Branch

  • U.S. Senate
  • U.S. House of Representatives

Executive Branch

  • U.S. President
  • Federal agencies

Judicial Branch

  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • Appellate courts and district courts

Similar to the process in the states, federal lawmaking brings the legislative branch and executive branch together to set policies. Unlike state lawmaking, which only applies inside the particular state, federal lawmaking applies nationwide.

What Is the U.S. Congress?

The United States Congress is the legislative body of the federal government. It is bicameral, meaning that it has two chambers, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Senators are elected to represent their states, with each state having two Senators. Senators are elected every 6 years, but not all senators are elected at the same time. Approximately 1/3 of the Senate seats are voted for in each general election. There are 100 U.S. Senators.

Representatives are elected from congressional districts within each state, with the number of districts determined by population. Representatives are elected every 2 years. There are currently 435 U.S. Representatives.

The District of Columbia and U.S. territories Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands each have a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives. These delegates can participate in debates and committees but cannot vote on the House floor.

Congress is responsible for passing federal laws, approving the federal budget, and exercising oversight over the executive branch.

How Does a Federal Bill Become a Law?

The federal lawmaking process is similar to the state lawmaking process:

  • Bills are introduced in either the House or the Senate and sent to the appropriate committee or committees.
  • In committee, the bill is reviewed, debated, and amended. Committees may hold hearings to gather input from experts, stakeholders, and the public.
  • If the committee approves the bill, it is sent to the full chamber for further consideration.
  • The bill is debated on the floor of the chamber (House or Senate) where it was introduced. During the debate, members may offer amendments to the bill.
  • Members of the chamber then vote on the bill and if a majority of the members present support the bill then it passes.
  • The bill is then sent to the other chamber for consideration where the process repeats.
  • If the chambers pass two different versions of the bill, it is sent to a conference committee made of House and Senate members to resolve any differences.
  • Once the conferenced bill passes both chambers, it is sent to the President to be signed into law.

This process is very challenging. Only about 7% of federal bills introduced are passed into law.2

A graphic of a roadway with 5 callouts that describes the the legislative process.

Become an Asthma and Allergy Advocate

Citizen advocates are vital to the lawmaking process. By engaging with legislators, raising awareness, and advocating for evidence-based policies, you can help protect the health and safety of those with asthma and allergies.



1. Source: LexisNexis State Net, “Why Some State Legislatures Pass More Bills Than Others— and Why It Matters.”

2., “Statistics and Historical Comparison.”