Tracking the PAWS Act: How a bill becomes law

WUSA9's Andrea McCarren and our service dog-in-training explain how a bill become a law.

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - As 20 veterans commit suicide every day, some lawmakers believe service dogs may save their lives. In Congress, a bill is being considered that would match veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress with highly trained service dogs. 

The bill is called the PAWS Act of 2017. PAWS stands for Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers. In May, the bill was introduced simultaneously in the House and Senate. The respective bills are H.R.2327 and S.1014. 

WUSA9’s legislative journey is being led by reporter, Andrea McCarren, and photojournalist, John Mogor. They go on assignments accompanied by Nigel, a service dog in-training bred by Canine Companions for Independence. Nigel is the second service dog raised and trained by McCarren.

In the course of reporting on the PAWS Act, McCarren and Mogor discovered most Americans had no idea how a bill becomes law. As the two journalists attempted to do interviews on Capitol Hill, both tourists and locals said they didn’t have a clue about the process.

So they had an idea: Clearly explain the legislative process.  

To walk you through the steps of how a bill becomes law, Nigel and the WUSA9 Special Assignment team visited Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) on Capitol Hill, who gave us this step-by-step guide:

  1. After an idea is born, the bill gets drafted by the sponsoring lawmaker(s).
  2. In the House Chamber, the bill is placed in a hopper on the floor of the House of Representatives.* 
  3. The bill gets assigned to a committee.
  4. Committee hearing(s) will give lawmakers time to discuss, debate and possibly change the bill. The hearing(s) may take a long time. 
  5. The House bill is voted on the floor. If the bill is passed in the House, it gets referred to the Senate.
  6. The other chamber of Congress must vote to pass the bill with the exact same wording and punctuation.
  7. If the House and Senate do not reach a consensus on the bill, it goes to the Conference Committee. Lawmakers debate and discuss more to try reaching a consensus.
  8. If a consensus is reached, the House and Senate vote on the modified bill. 
  9. If the House and Senate both pass the bill, it advances to the president. The president can veto the bill or sign the bill into law. 

A vetoed bill can go back to Congress. If House and Senate both garner 2/3rds majority of the vote for the bill, it becomes law without the president's signature.

The bill may also become law if the president doesn’t take action but Congress remains in session. 

*The above steps explain when the House introduces a bill first. However, the Senate may also put a bill in motion. Ultimately, both chambers of Congress must vote to pass the same bill before it reaches the president’s desk.

Find your Congressmember or Senator and see if they support the PAWS Act:

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© 2017 WUSA-TV


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