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The Making of Our Laws

The US Capitol is a familiar landmark to people around the world. But do we know as much about the inside as we do about the outside? Let’s take a peek at what goes on there.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

lawLet’s Make a Law

The Capitol is home to the U.S. Congress. We elect the men and women who work here. The Congress is a bicameral, or two chambers, arrangement — one chamber is called the House of Representatives (the people who work there are called representatives) and the other is called the Senate (the people who work there are called — that’s right — senators.)

There are always 100 members of the Senate, but the House changes size — right now it has 435. That’s due to something called the Great Compromise: Every state always has two members in the Senate, but in the House, a state has Representatives in proportion to how many people it has. For example, California has 53 Representatives while Vermont has only 1.

Representatives and senators are called legislators, which means they are the ones who create the laws. (A law is a rule that everyone in a state or country must follow. An amendment is a change to a law.)

Congress makes laws that affect the entire nation, like deciding if the country needs stronger defenses. Imagine if a few members of the House of Representatives feel that the country needs a new army plane. What do they do? 

First they write down their idea in a legal format. Instead of “build new planes,” the law says: “Sec. 113. Multiyear procurement authority for airframes for Army UH-60M/HH-60M helicopters and Navy MH-60R/MH-60S helicopters” (that’s part of an actual law called the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012).

Then they put the law into a box called the “hopper” (nope, it’s not shaped like a frog), and a clerk gives it a number and the initials “HR” if it was introduced in the House and “S” if it was introduced in the Senate. Now the idea is called a bill, and the Government Printing Office makes copies and gives them out to each member of the House.


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