Bills and Resolutions

A bill is the instrument or measure used by legislatures to propose a new law, amend or repeal an existing law, or appropriate public funds. Typically, bills can be introduced into a legislative house only by a member of that house. Most twenty-first-century legislatures, however, have professional bill-drafting committees or commissions staffed by professionals who actually write the technical language of bills. Public bills relate to subjects affecting the public as a whole or as a group or class of persons. Private bills relate to one individual or organization, and many are occasioned by claims against the government or petitions for citizenship. If adopted by a legislature and not vetoed by an executive (i.e., a governor or the president), a bill becomes an act or statute that has the force of law.

A resolution is not usually a law, and therefore its uses reflect the agreement in a legislative body about issues that need not or should not have the effect of law. For this reason a resolution is usually a strictly legislative action that does not require executive action and cannot be vetoed by the executive. There are several types of resolutions, including simple, concurrent, and joint. A simple resolution is passed by one legislative house and may be used to pass the rules of that house. It may also express the sentiments of a house, for example, supporting or criticizing a president' s actions, or recognizing a special person or event. A concurrent resolution affects both houses of a legislature, such as setting the adjournment of both houses, and therefore requires action by both houses, but it does not require executive action. Congress uses concurrent resolutions to lay out the revenue and spending goals of the annual budget. A joint resolution, which is passed by both houses, has two uses: when signed by the chief executive, it becomes a law, as in joint resolutions that continue appropriations; otherwise, it is the measure used by both houses of Congress to propose constitutional amendments, because the proposal would not remain a proposal if it were a bill passed into law.

SEE ALSO Congress as a Governing Institution ; Legislative Committees and Caucuses ; Legislative Intent ; Legislative Supremacy ; Policy Adoption ; Policy Process ; Regular Order ; State Legislatures ; Statutes and Case Law ; Statutory Interpretation .

Stephen Schechter
Russell Sage College