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How a Bill Becomes a Law

Anyone can think up an idea for a state law. If the person or group wants that idea to actually become a law, they have to tell the idea to a legislator (a senator or member of the General Assembly).

If the legislator likes the idea, he or she has it written up as a bill. A bill is a proposal for a new law. People at the Office of Legislative Services write bills. The legislator who asks them to write it up becomes the sponsor of the bill. Other legislators who like the bill may join the legislator as co-sponsors.

Now the bill is ready to be looked at more closely to see if it really should become a law. The introduction of the bill in the legislature is the first step. Bills can be introduced while the General Assembly or Senate is in session. To introduce a bill, the Senate Secretary or General Assembly Clerk reads the bill and its number, title, and sponsors' names aloud.

Now that the bill has been introduced, it can go to a committee. The committee closely studies the bill. Committees hold meetings open to the public so that anyone can attend and give his or her opinion about the bill. The members of the committee might find that the bill has left out some things or decide that some things in the bill might not work. They can attach changes to the bill. These changes are called amendments.

When the committee has approved or amended the bill, it goes back to the Senate or General Assembly for the second reading. After this, it is up to the Senate President or Assembly Speaker to schedule a debate and vote on the bill.

When the day of the debate and vote arrives, the bill is read for a third time. The senators or members of the Assembly then publicly debate the bill, saying why the other legislators should vote for or against the bill.

After the debate, the vote is held. The bill needs to receive a majority of votes in favor of it or else it is defeated. A majority in the Senate is 21 votes. In the General Assembly it is 41 votes.

If the bill gets a majority of votes, it can now move on to the other house of the legislature. If it started in the Senate, it goes to the General Assembly. If it started in the General Assembly, it goes to the Senate. The same process -- committee, hearings, amendments, debate, and vote -- is repeated in the other house.

If the same bill also gets a majority of votes in the second house, then it goes to the governor. The governor is the head of the executive branch. If the governor signs the bill or does not act on it within 45 days, it becomes the law in the state of New Jersey. The law goes into effect on July 4 of the next year or on a day stated in the bill.

The governor can refuse to sign the bill. This is called a veto. If the governor vetoes the bill, it goes back to the legislature and does not become law unless the legislature overrides the veto. The veto is overridden if the bill receives a two-thirds majority vote in both houses. Two-thirds majority is 27 votes in the Senate, and 54 in the General Assembly.

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