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Federal Advocacy

Although the role of the federal government in gifted education is minimal, NAGC works with state and local advocates to pursue opportunities to increase the federal role in supporting gifted and talented learners. NAGC's recent advocacy focus has been on funding the Javits Program, strengthening accountability and assessments of student learning, and supporting teacher training opportunities.  Visit the legislative update pages to learn more about issues before the Congress.  


Federal Legislative Process: How a Bill Becomes a Law

The House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate operate independently of each other.  Each body has its own committees, staffs, and procedures for introducing and considering legislation.  Below is a general description of how legislation, or a "bill," becomes law during each "Congress." [Note: Each Congress lasts two years; legislation that is still pending at the end of each Congress expires and must be reintroduced in the next Congress.  The 112th Congress began in January 2011 and extends until January 2013.]   Click here to view a short powerpoint on Federal Advocacy "101."

Bill Introduction
Any Representative (or Senator) may introduce a bill at any time while the House (or Senate) is in session.  Bills are numbered sequentially from the first day of the new Congress.  House bill numbers are preceded by an "H.R.," Senate bills begin with an "S."  The Member introducing the bill is known as the "sponsor."  An unlimited number of Representatives (or Senators) may "co-sponsor" a bill to show their support for the legislation.  The more cosponsors on a bill, the greater chance the bill has of passing the House or Senate.  If you know a bill's number, it is possible to keep track of its status through the Library of Congress.

Referral to Committee
After a bill is introduced and assigned a number, it is referred to the appropriate committee(s) for consideration.  The referral is based on which committee(s) has jurisdiction over the subject matter addressed in the bill.  There are 20 standing committees in the House (17 in the Senate) that divide jurisdiction over issues ranging from budget concerns to foreign relations to agriculture, labor, education, and health-related issues, among others.  Most committees further organize themselves into subcommittees, each charged with responsibility for a segment of the committee's overall jurisdiction.

There are a limited number of seats on each committee for legislators.  Membership on the various committees (and subcommittees) is divided between the two major political parties.  Legislators usually seek appointment to the committee that has jurisdiction over a field in which the Member is qualified and interested.  The committee member from the majority party in the House (or Senate) with the most continuous service on that committee is usually elected chairman.  The member from the minority party with the most seniority on the committee is designated the Ranking Minority Member, who is responsible to negotiate with the chairman on behalf of all the minority members of the committee.  Each committee has office space and hires professional staff to assist it in the innumerable administrative details involved in the consideration of bills and its oversight responsibilities.

Committee Consideration
Perhaps the most important phase of the legislative process is the action by committees.  Committees give the most intensive consideration to a proposed measure and provide the forum for the public to be heard.

One of the first actions taken by a committee is to seek the input of the relevant federal departments and agencies about the necessity or desirability of enacting a bill into law.  Congress also may request a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) about the potential costs associated with a bill, or the General Accounting Office (GAO), about the scope and size of a federal program that the legislation proposes to modify.

If the bill is of sufficient importance, the committee may set a date for public hearings in the subcommittee that has jurisdiction over a specific bill.  Hearings provide a forum for officials from the Executive Branch to state the President's position.  Congress also often asks for the position of organizations that are active on the subject.  Sometimes those views are provided in person, or in writing.  House and Senate committee hearings are listed in the Daily Digest portion of the Congressional Record, Congress's official record of proceedings.  Committee websites also provide notice of upcoming hearings, and sometimes provide links to written testimony.

After hearings are completed, the subcommittee will usually consider the bill in a session that is popularly known as the "markup" session.  All views are studied in detail, amendments to the bill may be adopted, and at the conclusion of deliberation a vote is taken to determine the action of the subcommittee. 
It may decide to "report" the bill favorably to the full committee, with or without amendment; unfavorably; or without recommendation.  The term "report" is used because the subcommittee files a report with the bill when sending the bill along to the full committee. 
The subcommittee may also suggest that the committee "table," or postpone action indefinitely on a bill.  Each member of the subcommittee, regardless of party affiliation, has one vote.

At the full committee level, a similar process occurs.  Committee members vote to determine what action to take on a bill reported by a subcommittee.  If the committee votes to report the bill favorably to the House (or Senate), it may report the bill without amendments.  If the committee has approved extensive amendments, it may decide to report the original bill with one "amendment in the nature of a substitute" consisting of all the amendments previously adopted, or it may report a new bill incorporating those amendments. A committee may table a bill, thereby preventing further action.

Reported Bills
If the committee votes to report the bill to the House (or Senate), the committee staff writes the committee report that describes the purpose and scope of the bill and the reasons for its recommended approval.  The report is then filed with the House (or Senate), and is assigned a report number.  The bill is then placed on the House (or Senate) calendar to await further action.  The majority leadership decides how and when the bill will be considered on the House and Senate floors.

In both the House and Senate, innumerable measures of relatively minor importance are disposed of by unanimous consent (e.g., naming U.S. Post Offices, commemorative resolutions, appointments to international conferences).  In the Senate, where debate is unlimited, major bills are brought up on motion of the majority leader who generally has reached an agreement with the minority leader on how the Senate will proceed on the legislation (i.e., the number of hours set aside for debate and the number and type of amendments that will be allowed).  In the House, major legislation is called up under a privileged resolution (called a "rule") reported from the House Rules Committee, which fixes the limits of debate and whether amendments may be offered on the House floor.  A "closed rule" means no amendments are allowed; an "open rule" permits floor amendments.

Floor Consideration
Although floor procedures differ greatly between the House and Senate, in general a bill is debated at length with the proponents and opponents presenting their views to acquaint their colleagues with the issues involved with the goal of arriving at a consensus.  During the course of consideration of a bill, there may be various parliamentary motions made to determine the sentiment of the Membership.  A bill may be postponed to some future date or referred back to committee for further consideration.  After general debate, and approval of any amendments, there is a vote on whether to pass the bill in its final form.  House and Senate floor debate, and any roll call votes, are recorded in the Congressional Record.

After Passage in One Chamber
Once a bill passes in either the House or Senate, the bill is sent to the other body, which will either hold a vote on the bill or refer it to the appropriate committee(s) for further consideration.

Conference Committee
A bill must pass both the House and Senate in the same form before it can be presented to the President for signature into law.  When there are substantial differences between the House and Senate versions of a given bill, the measure is sent to conference committees, the members of which come from the committees with jurisdiction over the bill, and are appointed by the Speaker of the House and the Presiding Officer of the Senate .  The purpose of the conference is to adjust the differences between the two versions of the bill and report back to the House and Senate on an agreed-upon final version. 

Conference Report
The written report of the conference committee, which explains the compromises made to the bill by the conference, cannot be amended and must be accepted or rejected by the full House and Senate as written. 

Final Step
Once the final version of the bill (or Conference Report) is approved by both the House and Senate, the bill is "enrolled," or finalized (printed on parchment paper and signed by House and Senate officials) for presentation to the President. 

The bill becomes law

  • with the President's signature of approval, or
  • it may become law without his signature if he does not return it, with his objections, to the Congress within ten days of receiving it. 
  • If the President vetoes the bill, it will still become law if two-thirds of both the House and Senate vote to override the veto.

Read State of the Nation, NAGC's summary of the State of the States report, the only national look at the state of gifted education. 

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Return to the legislative update page.