How a Bill becomes a Law in the District of Columbia

PROPOSED LEGISLATION STARTS LIFE AS A BILL, becomes an act when passed by the Council, and is finally a law after the mandated Congressional review period. Bills can only be introduced by a member of the Council. The Chairman as a courtesy may introduce a bill requested by the mayor. Hundreds of bills are introduced in each Council Period for consideration of the Council.

When a bill is introduced, it receives a filing number in the Office of the Secretary which is used to track the bill through the legislative process. The first number is the Period in which it was introduced, and the second number indicates its place in the numerical sequence of bills introduced.

The Chairman assigns the bill for consideration to the proper standing committee or committees as designated by Council Rules. During consideration of the bill, the chairperson of the committee may schedule a public hearing or roundtable on the bill. To solicit public comment, the committee publishes notice of the public hearing 15 days in advance in the D.C. Register. When considering a bill, the committee examines the need for the legislation, reviews public comments, and determines the fiscal impact. The committee may mark up the bill and vote to recommend that the Council approve or disapprove the bill. Or, the committee may choose to take no action on the bill allowing it to die in committee.

If the committee reports the bill out, the Council officers review the legislation and report to the Committee of the Whole whether the record is complete and in proper legal or technical order. Members of the Council do not debate the bill at this stage, but can ask for clarification or explanations. The Chairman will place the bill on the agenda of the legislative meeting with approval of the Committee of the Whole.

At the legislative meeting, the bill receives a first reading. Members debate the bill and can offer amendments. If a majority of those present and voting approve the bill, it is scheduled for a second reading at another legislative meeting. Or, a majority may vote against the bill in which case it dies. Also, the majority could vote to table the bill or return it to committee for reconsideration.

When two-thirds of the members find that emergency circumstances exist, the council also may adopt emergency legislation effective for 90 days and temporary legislation which remains in effect for 225 days. Except for emergency acts and special legislation (e.g., bond legislation) all acts must be referred to the U.S. Congress for a mandated review period. Congress has 60 legislative days in which to review proposed changes to the criminal code, and 30 legislative days to review other legislation. A legislative day is any day in which one or both houses of the U.S. Congress are in session.

Council-passed measures become law if Congress does not disapprove a District act by adopting a joint resolution of disapproval, which must be signed by the president of the United States.


The Council may pass an emergency act if two-thirds of the Members vote by an emergency declaration resolution that such an emergency exists. An emergency act does not go through the Committee process and is passed by a majority on a single reading. An emergency act becomes effective as soon as the Mayor signs it, and is not subject to congressional review. If the Mayor vetoes it, the Council can override with a two-thirds vote. An emergency act remains in effect for 90 days.

A temporary act can be passed along with the emergency act and it remains in effect for no more than 225 days.

Reprinted from the official site of the DC Council (

DC Council Members -