Law 101


  1. What are Statutes?
  2. What is Codification of the law?
  3. What is a Bill?
  4. What is an Act?
  5. How can I tell when a law becomes effective?
  6. How a Bill becomes a Law in DC?
  7. What is an Emergency Bill?
  8. Why must an Act enacted by the Council be approved by Congress?
  9. What is the difference between a public law and a D.C. law?
  10. As a citizen, how can I voice my opinion on pending legislation?

1.  What are Statutes?

A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs a state, city, or county. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. The word is often used to distinguish law made by legislative bodies from case law, decided by courts, and regulations issued by government agencies. Statutes are sometimes referred to as legislation or "black letter law."

Ideally all statutes must be in harmony with the fundamental law of the land - Constitution.

2.  What is Codification of the law?

In law, Codification is the process of collecting and restating the law of a jurisdiction in certain areas, usually by subject, forming a legal code, i.e. a codex (book) of law.

In the United States, acts of Congress are published chronologically in the order in which they become law — often by being signed by the President, on an individual basis in official pamphlets called "slip laws," and are grouped together in official bound book form, also chronologically, as "session laws". The "session law" publication for Federal statutes is called the United States Statutes at Large.

The Statutes at Large, however, is not a convenient tool for legal research. It is arranged strictly in chronological order so that statutes addressing related topics may be scattered across many volumes.

Therefore, codification is made to make finding relevant and effective statutes simpler by reorganizing them by subject matter, and eliminating expired and amended sections. The United States Code is the result of such a process.

In DC, the official codification of DC statues is called the DC Code.

3.  What is a Bill?

A bill is a proposed new law or amendment to an existing law. In DC, to begin Council consideration the Chairman refers a proposed bill to a Committee to solicit public comments, and determine its fiscal impact.

4.  What is an Act?

In the Federal level, "Act" is used to refer to a bill or joint resolution that has passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate and has been signed into law by the President, or passed over his veto, thus becoming a law.

In DC, after the Council has passed a bill, it is transmitted to the Mayor. The Mayor, within 10 business days, must sign the bill, veto the bill, or allow the bill to become law without his signature. If the bill is not vetoed, it becomes an Act and is assigned an Act number.

5.  How can I tell when a law becomes effective?

Unless otherwise provided by law, an act is effective on its date of enactment. When a Code section or an amendment to a Code section is effective on a date other than its date of enactment, the Code will almost always include an effective date note under the section.


6.  How a Bill becomes a Law in DC?

The District of Columbia has a single house legislature called the Council. There are 13 council members - a representative from each of the eight wards and four members elected at large, and the Chair.

A bill is introduced by Council members. The Council Chair assigns the bill to the appropriate committee(s). If a public hearing or roundtable is held, a notice will be published in the D.C. Register for public comment 15 days in advance of a scheduled public hearing. The committee may mark up the bill and vote to recommend that the Council approve or disapprove the bill. The committee may take no action and let the bill die. 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. Council members do not debate the bill at this stage, but can ask for clarification or explanations. The Chairman will place the bill on the legislative meeting agenda with the approval of the Committee of the Whole.

At the legislative meeting, Members debate the bill and can offer amendments. If the majority of those present votes no, the bill dies. If the majority votes yes, the bill passes the first reading and is scheduled for a second reading at another legislative meeting. The majority may vote to table the bill or return it to committee for reconsideration.

Council takes a second vote. If the majority votes no, the bill dies. If the majority votes yes, the bill passes.

The Mayor has ten days to sign the bill at which point, the bill becomes an act (e.g. A15-390). If the Mayor does not take any action within ten days, the bill becomes an act. The Mayor can veto the bill and return it to the Council. Council, however, may override the Mayor's veto with a two-thirds majority vote within 30 days.

The Council chair transmits the act to the U.S. Congress to review for 30 legislative days (for criminal acts, Congress has 60 legislative days). If Congress takes no action, the act becomes a law (e.g. L15-155). Congress can pass a joint resolution disapproving the act. The joint resolution has to be approved by the President.


7.  What is an Emergency Bill?

The emergency Bill is an bill from the legislation to authorize the taking of special temporary measures to ensure safety and security during national emergencies and/or to amend other acts in consequence thereof.

In DC, an emergency bill takes effect immediately and is effective for 90 days. Because it does not follow the committee process, a vote of a super majority (9) is required for an emergency to be considered.

8.  Why must an Act enacted by the Council be approved by Congress?

Congress imposed this requirement on the District in the Home Rule Act. Congress must also approve the District's annual budget.


9.  What is the difference between a public law and a D.C. law?

A public law is a federal law passed by Congress and signed by the President. A D.C. law is a District law passed by the Council, and upon approval of the Mayor, and completion of the Congressional review period, becomes effective.


10.  As a citizen in DC, how can I voice my opinion on pending legislation?

Council Rules require a public hearing before a permanent bill can be adopted. Also, Council rules require that notice of the hearing must be published in the D.C. Register at least 15 days in advance. Persons wishing to speak at a hearing may sign up by contacting the appropriate committee or calling 724-8000. If you are unable to testify you can fax or mail your comments, or you can call the Councilmember.