Introducing a Senate Bill or Resolution

January 17, 2017 (R44195)
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Summary

Authoring and introducing legislation is fundamental to the task of representing voters as a U.S. Senator. Part of what makes the American political process unique is that it affords all Senators an ability to propose their own ideas for chamber consideration. By comparison, most other democratic governments around the world rely on an executive official, often called a premier, chancellor, or prime minister, to originate and submit policy proposals for discussion and enactment by the legislature. Legislators serving in other countries generally lack the power to initiate legislative proposals of their own.

In the American political system, ideas and recommendations for legislation come from a wide variety of sources. Any number of individuals, groups, or entities may participate in drafting bills and resolutions, but only Senators may formally introduce legislation in the Senate, and they may do so for any reason.

When a Senator has determined that a bill or resolution is ready for introduction, it can be delivered to the bill clerk's desk on the chamber floor when the Senate is in session. The sponsor must sign the measure and attach the names of any original cosponsors on a separate form. Cosponsors do not sign the bill. There is no Senate rule that introduced bills and resolutions must be prepared by the Senate Office of the Legislative Counsel, but the office plays an important role by providing Senators and staff, at their request, with drafts of legislation. Use of the office by Senators and staff is nearly universal.

Once introduced, the Senate Parliamentarian, acting on behalf of the presiding officer, refers legislation to committee based primarily on how its contents align with the subject matter jurisdictions of committees established in Senate Rule XXV. Multiple referral is rare in the Senate due to Senate Rule XVII, which states that a measure is referred to the committee with "jurisdiction over the subject matter which predominates in such proposed legislation."

This report is intended to assist Senators and staff in preparing legislation for introduction. Its contents address essential elements of the process, including bill drafting, the mechanics of introduction, and the roles played by key Senate offices involved in the drafting, submission, and referral of legislation. Statistics on introduced bills and resolutions are presented in the final section to illustrate patterns of introduction in recent Congresses.


Introducing a Senate Bill or Resolution

Developing Ideas for Legislation

"Ideas can come from anywhere," a scholar of American politics once wrote.1 To be sure, ideas and recommendations for legislation come from a wide variety of sources, such as individual Senators; committees and other Senate working groups; legislative staff; party and chamber leaders; executive branch agencies and the White House; states and localities; members of the media; citizens; and interest groups. Any or all of these individuals or entities may participate in drafting legislation, but only a Senator may formally introduce legislation in the Senate. Some common considerations taken into account when drafting a bill include the following:

Drafting Legislation

There is no Senate rule that introduced bills and resolutions must be prepared by the Office of the Legislative Counsel. Senators can receive drafts of bills from executive officials, interest groups, and others. Still, the office plays an important role by providing Senators and staff, at their request, with drafts of legislation. Use of the office by Senators and staff is nearly universal. Its staff attorneys are experts in legislative drafting, and they focus almost exclusively on policy issues within their areas of expertise. Legislative attorneys are often assigned to serve a specific committee as a kind of nonpartisan, shared staff. They work closely with committee members and staff to ensure that a bill's language and form match the intent of its sponsor and adhere to drafting rules and linguistic traditions of the Senate.

Several drafts may be required before a measure is ready for formal introduction. Those drafting legislation may seek assistance from the Office of Legislative Counsel at any stage. All communications with the office are treated as confidential. The office is located in Room 668 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building and can be reached at extension 4-6461 or by sending an email request to Receptionist@slc.senate.gov.8

The number of requests to draft bills and amendments has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, from roughly 20,000 requests handled by the office during the 109th Congress (2005-2006) to more than 40,000 in more recent congresses. To guide the management of its workload, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration has established a system for prioritizing requests received by the office. Measures currently in conference committee receive the highest priority, followed by amendments to measures pending on the Senate floor. Measures being considered in committee are prioritized next, followed by proposals drafted at the request of individual Senators. It is this latter category into which many introduced bills will fall. Within each of these categories, priority is given to requests in the order they are received. Given the volume of its work, it is advisable to give the office as much advance notice as possible when making a drafting request. Depending on the nature of the policy area, the workload of the office, and other factors, it can take substantial time to draft legislation, especially if it addresses complex issues or involves multiple subject areas.9

Seeking Cosponsors

When Senators introduce a measure, they commonly attach a form listing the names of cosponsors.10 Cosponsorship signifies a Senator's support for the proposal. Prior to its introduction, Senators may cosponsor a measure by contacting the office of the legislative sponsor and requesting that their names be added to the bill or resolution. Initial (or "original") cosponsors can be added until the measure is presented to the bill clerk in the Senate chamber. Thereafter, unanimous consent is required to include additional cosponsors on the measure. There is no limit on the number of cosponsors a measure may attract. Cosponsors do not sign the bill, but the sponsor is required to.

A "Dear Colleague" letter sent to most or all Senators is a common technique for informing Senators of the pending introduction of a bill or resolution, and for soliciting support. Typically, these letters briefly state the issue the measure addresses, the measure's significant features, and an appeal to become a cosponsor. These letters almost always include the name and telephone number of a staff aide to contact about cosponsoring the bill.11

Introducing a Bill or Resolution

At the beginning of each new Congress, the Senate traditionally adopts a standing order allowing Senators to introduce measures at any time the chamber is in session by presenting them to the bill clerk seated at the desk on the Senate floor.12 A measure must be signed by the sponsoring Senator in the top right hand corner before it can be introduced. Printing should be one-sided, and staff contact information should be written on the back of the last page of the bill. There is no limit on the number of measures a Senator may introduce, and Senators may propose legislation for any reason. Between 1973 and 2016, Senators introduced an average of about 40 bills and resolutions per Congress.13 Statistics on introduced bills and resolutions are provided in Table 1.

Senators who wish to make a statement on the measure may deliver their remarks during morning business (which is common) or at another point during the day, or they may ask unanimous consent to insert their statement in the Congressional Record.14 These statements appear in the "Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions" section. By unanimous consent, the text of the measure is also typically printed in the Record.

Senators and staff may also consider devising an attention-grabbing title for their legislation, such as the USA-Patriot Act ("Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism"). Such titles might attract media attention and notice by other lawmakers.

Although rare, a Senator may object to the introduction of a bill or joint resolution. If objection is heard, the bill may be introduced on the following legislative day (or anytime thereafter) as a matter of right under paragraph 1 of Rule XIV.

Committee Referral

Referral decisions are made by the Senate Parliamentarian acting on behalf of the presiding officer. Referral occurs primarily on the basis of committee jurisdictions set forth in Senate Rule XXV. Under the provisions of Senate Rule XVII, a measure is referred to the committee with "jurisdiction over the subject matter which predominates in such proposed legislation."

The word "predominates" in Rule XVII implies a majority standard by which subject matter is determined, which at times can arouse inter-committee disagreements as only a single subject can be considered predominant. Multiple referral occurs only occasionally in the Senate on account of Rule XVII, and in almost all cases is made by unanimous consent or standing order.15 When referring a measure to committee, the Parliamentarian might begin by asking two related questions: "What is this measure mainly about?" and "What committee has subject matter jurisdiction that corresponds most closely to the measure's main subject?"

Senate Rule XIV requires that all bills and resolutions be read twice before they are referred to committee, but rarely is this requirement strictly adhered to.16 Measures are typically referred immediately if there is no objection, and this is what occurs in the large majority of cases. (House bills and resolutions messaged to the Senate are often referred immediately as well.) A procedure in Rule XIV allows an introduced (or House-received) bill or joint resolution to be placed directly on the calendar of business without first being referred to a standing committee.17

Statistics on Introduced Measures

The number of bills and resolutions introduced in the Senate fluctuates over time as Table 1 shows. There is little reason to expect that the demand for legislation would stay constant over this period; new issues arise, those that exist are dealt with, and old issues fade away. The 109th Congress (2005-2006) reached a high point with 4,869 introductions, while the 104th Congress (1995-1996) falls at the lower end of recent congresses with 2,628 introduced bills and resolutions.

Most introduced measures are bills, as shown in the second column of Table 1. Only bills and joint resolutions can make or change law; concurrent and simple resolutions are used primarily to address internal matters of one or both chambers. For instance, a concurrent resolution is used to organize a joint session of Congress to receive the President's State of the Union address. A simple resolution would be appropriate to address Senate-related matters, such as proposals to amend the standing rules of the chamber. Legislation to honor or celebrate an individual, group, or event may also be drafted as a simple or concurrent resolution.

Most measures are introduced by individual Senators, but Senate committees may also report an "original" bill for chamber consideration. As Senate Rule XXV states, standing committees have "leave to report by bill or otherwise on matters within their respective jurisdictions." This means that committees do not have to wait for measures to be referred to them in order to act. The relevant committee chair is generally considered the sponsor in these instances, although the measure is perhaps best understood as a product that incorporates views and input from other committee members as well. Original bills may not have cosponsors.

Table 1. Statistics on Introduced Measures, 1973-2016

Senate (Years)

Number of Introductions

Bills Introduced

Joint Resolutions Introduced

Concurrent Resolutions Introduced

Simple Resolutions Introduced

Introductions per Senator

93rd (1973-74)

4,340

3,552

263

125

400

43

94th (1975-76)

4,234

3,291

215

212

516

42

95th (1977-78)

3,861

3,017

169

115

560

39

96th (1979-80)

3,620

2,728

214

139

539

36

97th (1981-82)

3,599

2,691

272

135

501

36

98th (1983-84)

3,720

2,753

358

154

455

37

99th (1985-86)

3,778

2,692

431

175

480

38

100th (1987-88)

3,818

2,756

395

170

497

38

101st (1989-90)

4,089

3,184

388

159

358

41

102nd (1991-92)

4,185

3,330

346

143

366

42

103rd (1993-94)

3,121

2,515

232

80

294

31

104th (1995-96)

2,628

2,165

65

74

324

26

105th (1997-98)

3,123

2,619

60

130

314

31

106th (1999-00)

3,843

3,233

56

162

392

38

107th (2001-02)

3,734

3,153

53

160

368

37

108th (2003-04)

3,679

2,998

42

152

487

37

109th (2005-06)

4,869

4,071

41

123

634

49

110th (2007-08)

4,582

3,700

46

107

729

46

111th (2009-10)

4,846

4,019

42

78

707

48

112th (2011-12)

4,426

3,680

51

65

630

44

113th (2013-14)

3,680

2,988

47

44

601

37

114th (2015-16)

4,274

3,533

41

58

642

43

Senate Average

3,912

3,122

174

125

491

39

Source: Legislative Information System (LIS)

Notes: The column "Number of Introductions" includes all public bills (S.), joint resolutions (S.J.Res.), concurrent resolutions (S.Con.Res.), and simple resolutions (S.Res.) introduced in the Senate during each two-year period. This includes measures that committees reported as original bills. "Introductions per Senator" was calculated by dividing the number of introductions during each period by the membership of the Senate. On this measure, committee chairs tend to be more frequent sponsors than non-chairs in part because original bills produced by Senate committees and reported to the full chamber are considered to be sponsored by the chair of the relevant committee.

Author Contact Information

[author name scrubbed], Analyst on Congress and the Legislative Process ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])

Acknowledgments

A short version of this report was originally prepared by former CRS Specialist Richard C. Sachs. Please direct any inquiries to the current author.

Footnotes

1.

John Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1984), p. 75. Kingdon's account of the policymaking process offers insights into why some ideas but not others make their way into law. See also CRS Report RS21169, Sources of Legislative Proposals: A Descriptive Introduction, by [author name scrubbed].

2.

For information on how to prepare for a committee hearing, see CRS Report 98-489, Senate Committee Hearings: Preparation, by [author name scrubbed].

3.

Senate Rule XXII (cloture) provides the only formal mechanism (absent unanimous consent) to end debate on an issue and bring it to a vote. If 60 or more Senators (assuming no more than one vacancy) vote to invoke cloture on a bill, then consideration is capped at 30 additional hours and a final vote is scheduled to take place at the conclusion of that time. Information on the operation of cloture can be found in CRS Report 98-425, Invoking Cloture in the Senate, by [author name scrubbed]. Additional information on Senate floor procedures can be found in CRS Report 96-548, The Legislative Process on the Senate Floor: An Introduction, by [author name scrubbed].

4.

The "hotline" is a special telephone and email system that connects Senate offices to the majority or minority cloakrooms. Senate leaders use the hotline to transmit notifications and unanimous consent requests regarding the Senate's legislative agenda and schedule.

5.

For information on the enforcement of budget rules, see CRS Report 97-865, Points of Order in the Congressional Budget Process, by [author name scrubbed]. For an overview of the federal budget process, see CRS Report 98-721, Introduction to the Federal Budget Process, coordinated by [author name scrubbed].

6.

Only bills and joint resolutions can make or change law, while simple and concurrent resolutions are used to address matters that are internal to one or both chambers of Congress. For examples of how each is used, see CRS Report 98-706, Bills and Resolutions: Examples of How Each Kind Is Used, by [author name scrubbed].

7.

For information on methods to resolve bicameral differences, see CRS Report 98-696, Resolving Legislative Differences in Congress: Conference Committees and Amendments Between the Houses, by [author name scrubbed].

8.

Additional information on the Office of Legislative Counsel and the drafting services it provides can be found in CRS Report RS20856, Office of Legislative Counsel: Senate, by [author name scrubbed], as well as on the office's website, at http://www.slc.senate.gov/.

9.

Guidelines for expediting requests for drafting assistance can be found on Webster, the Senate's internal website, at http://webster.senate.gov. Only Senate offices have access to Webster.

10.

Cosponsorship forms are available for download in portable document format (PDF) at http://webster.senate.gov.

11.

For further information on these practices, see CRS Report 98-279, Sponsorship and Cosponsorship of Senate Bills, by [author name scrubbed], and CRS Report RL34636, "Dear Colleague" Letters: Current Practices, by [author name scrubbed].

12.

Congressional Record, vol. 161, part 28 (January 6, 2015), S9. Most measures are introduced in this fashion. Senators may also introduce measures from the floor as part of "morning business" under Senate Rule VII. In practice, however, morning business seldom occurs as provided in Rule VII. Instead, on most days, the Senate arranges by unanimous consent a period for transacting routine morning business to occur at some later point.

13.

This number includes bills (S.), joint resolutions (S.J.Res.), concurrent resolutions (S.Con.Res.), and simple resolutions (S.Res.).

14.

Morning business in this context refers to the common practice of dedicating a period of time during the day for Senators to speak on the floor on any topic for up to 10 minutes. When Senators and staff refer to "morning business," it is usually in this context. Senators recognized on the floor may also request unanimous consent to speak "as if in morning business," which is to say, on a topic of their choosing.

15.

Section 3(a) of Senate Rule XVII allows a measure to be referred to multiple committees by joint motion of the majority and minority leaders (or their designees), but this motion seems to have never been used. For further information on the referral of measures in the Senate, see CRS Report 98-242, Committee Jurisdiction and Referral in the Senate, by [author name scrubbed].

16.

The first and second readings occur on the title of a measure; legislative text is not read in full unless the Senate orders otherwise.

17.

For more information on Senate Rule XIV, see CRS Report RS22299, Bypassing Senate Committees: Rule XIV and Unanimous Consent, by [author name scrubbed]. On the Senate's calendar of Business, or legislative calendar, see CRS Report 98-429, The Senate's Calendar of Business, coordinated by [author name scrubbed].