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How Bills Become Law in Massachusetts

The original visual guide for How Bills Become Law in Massachusetts.

How Bills Become Law in Massachusetts
presented by Autistic Hoya (October 2015)

The Idea

[Drawing: Two women, one Black and one white, in business attire.]

A State Representative or State Senator turns an idea into a bill, and files the bill in the House or Senate.

[Drawing: A fat Black man with a thin white cane and a thin Latina woman wearing a star of David necklace and using a powerchair with sip-and-puff control.]

But, in Massachusetts, any citizen can ask the State Rep. or Senator to file a bill–so the idea can also come from you!

Becoming A Bill

[Drawing: White person using desktop computer with service dog sitting beside them. Screen says, “H-1370, S-89.”]

The bill gets a number.

H means it was filed in the House.

S means it was filed in the Senate.

Then the bill is sent to a committee based on its topic. S-89 is about aversive treatment for people with disabilities, so it went to the Committee on “Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities.”

A Bill’s Beginning

[Drawing: A hearing room with seven people of different races sitting in the legislators’ desks and three people sitting at the witnesses’ table facing them.]

The committee holds a public hearing. Usually, there are several bills at the same hearing. Anyone who supports or opposes the bill can speak at the hearing or send something in writing.

[Drawing: Three people–a young white woman wearing hijab (head scarf), a young East Asian person with a side undercut using a pair of crutches, and a young Black man who is a little person–all wearing matching t-shirts with the Jobs Not Jails slogan.]

Organize with your friends and other groups in your community who care about your bill, and turn up in numbers! You can testify in small groups.

[Drawing: A middle-aged South Asian man wearing a dastar (turban) and business suit points to a flipchart.]

After the bill’s hearing, the committee will decide what to do next:

(1) Favorable Report (“ought to pass”)

(2) Unfavorable Report (“ought not to pass”)

(3) Sent for “Study” (kills bill)

After a bill is reported out from committee, it goes through three “readings.”

First Reading 

[Drawing: A light-skinned man wearing a kippah (skullcap) and business suit holds a large paper.]

The Clerk of the House or Senate reports the committee’s decision.

Bill goes to Committee on Steering and Policy. (Except some bills involving money, which go to Ways and Means first.)

Second Reading

[Drawing: Legislative chamber with a dais at front and various rows of desks arrayed in semicircle facing the dais, with tiny stick figure people all around.]

Once released from Steering and Policy, the bill begins its second reading in front of the entire House or Senate. The State Reps and Senators can debate the bill and suggest changes, known as amendments.

House or Senate must vote to send bill to third reading.

Third Reading

[Drawing: A fat Black woman with natural hair and thin older Latino man, both wearing business suits, hold the same large piece of paper.]

It goes to the Committee on Bills in Third Reading, which checks to make sure the bill is totally legally correct. When they’re done, it goes back to the whole House or Senate for a last reading. (It can still be changed.)

[Drawing: Eight hands in different skin colors all raised in the air.]

After final debate on any amendments, the House or Senate votes to “pass the bill to be engrossed.”

If this vote passes, then it goes to the other side to repeat the three readings process.

(If House, then Senate, OR, if Senate, then House.)

If the two versions are different, a conference committee will try to compromise.

[Drawing: A white person with various face piercings and a mohawk with shaved sides speaks on a cell phone while a Black woman with straightened hair is typing something on a cell phone.]

The next step is a final “enactment” vote in both House and Senate.

This is when to call, tweet, and email your legislator to ask for a “YES” vote!

If enacted…

The bill goes to the governor.

[Drawing: Governor Charlie Baker, a white man, wearing a business suit and holding a pen. Behind him is a portrait of his predecessor, Governor Deval Patrick, a Black man, wearing a business suit in front of an American flag.]

The Governor can:

(1) Sign the bill into law.

(2) Let the bill become law without signing it.

(3) Send it back to the State House and ask for changes.

(4) Veto the bill.
(To pass, the House and Senate must each vote yes by 2/3.)

(5) Quietly kill the bill in a pocket veto, by not signing it and waiting for session to end.

If (1) or (2), it becomes LAW.








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