How a Bill Becomes a Law

Understanding how a bill becomes a law can often seem mysterious and is designed to keep the public in the dark. But never fear, MNA’s lobbyists are here to help make the process more approachable.

Sometimes it’s easier to understand the process if we start where it ends. For a bill to become a law in Minnesota, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Governor must agree to a bill in which the language is exactly the same in order for it to become law.

If that’s where we end, where do we start? A bill is a document—a physical representation—based on an idea that someone has. It can direct state government agencies to do things like increase spending on healthcare or change policy regarding how many patients a nurse can care for at one time. It can influence corporate behavior by requiring data transparency and financial accountability with taxpayer money, or by directing government agencies to investigate claims of malpractice.

To begin the process, a bill needs three things:

1. A chief author
2. To be written in statutory language
3. To be introduced in both the House and the Senate.

Once each one of these are in place, the bill begins to work its way through the appropriate House and Senate committees. House and Senate Committees are made up of elected legislators who vet the bill and hear from stakeholders and members of the public.

At this point in the process, you may hear from MNA staff asking you to share your story with legislators. It’s also at this point that a bill can be changed in different ways through amendments that delete, change, or add new parts. Because the House and Senate are made up of different people from different political parties, they can have different ideas about what should happen to what is being proposed in a bill.

Once the bill is heard by all the necessary committees it is referred to the House or Senate floor and prepared for the next steps in the process. When the majority caucus is ready, they schedule a bill for the entire body to vote on. Once again, a bill can be amended in different ways by the House and the Senate. It’s not unusual for each legislative body to pass different versions of the same bill.

If the bills are the same, they can be sent to the Governor for a signature, which would officially make the bill a law. If they are different, a conference committee of three to five members of the House and Senate is appointed to work out the differences. Once that smaller group comes to an agreement on all the language in the bill, it is returned to the House and Senate for Final Passage. If both bodies pass it, it is sent on to the Governor.

From there, the Governor can sign the bill and it becomes law or they can veto the bill and it does not. The legislature can vote to override a Governor’s veto but that rarely happens.

That’s how a bill becomes a law. What can’t be accounted for is the way that various outside factors may impact this process. Things like politics, election years, budget deficits, emergencies, and natural disasters may make it harder for legislation to pass.

One way we can try to mitigate the unpredictable is to ensure that nurse voices are front and center in the process. Your stories create political pressure on elected officials and ensure that nurse issues are included in discussions about changes to Minnesota’s healthcare system.