How fast can US laws change?

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How fast can US laws change?

  • legislature, US law

People may be concerned about what will happen in the US, now that the Trump administration is taking over, but it is important to understand that his new administration cannot change most things in the US overnight. Other than reversing certain of Obama’s Executive Orders (directives by the President of the United States that have the power of a federal law), changes in laws require a long process.

According to Martin Neubert, Senior Vice President, Chief Strategy Officer, Wind Power, DONG Energy who spoke at our Pre-Inauguration event on January 11, 2017, there are limitations on the ability of the President to act unilaterally.  He has greatest latitude with Executive Orders, some ability to implement or abolish agency regulations, the power to block implementation of treaties such as the Paris Agreement, but it would require an act of Congress to change the Offshore Wind Development laws, for example, which are enshrined in Federal law.

Limitations on ability of president to act unilaterally

Federal cooperation is required, but the crucial regulatory elements for Offshore Wind, for example, are controlled by state legislators.

Federal and state level responsibility split on energy legislation

Here is a US government resource on how laws are made, showing how Federal and State laws are made, and including a link to state laws.

And here is a fun easy way to understand the process of changing a law in the US, and illustrates the importance of keeping an eye on local (city and state) laws, not just federal/national laws:

This image by Mike Worth and Dr. Susanne Cooper based on “How Laws are Made” by John W. Sullivan, gives a good look at the process, but doesn’t talk about the timing (though you can see it won’t be quick!).

How laws are made 1600

And here’s a slide from Mikael Olai Milhøj, Senior Analyst, Danske Bank showing that it would likely be at least 2018 before Trump’s new fiscal policy might impact the economy, due to the need for ideation, decision-making/passing the legislation, and actual implementation time: Lag before fiscal policy would affect US economy smaller

So…to answer the question “how long does it take to change the law”,  we can start by trying to quantify how long it takes for a bill to become law – but that is tough – some take much longer than others.

However, here are some key stats from a post on Quora based on 2014 data:

  • 5,884 bills were introduced in the House and 3,020 introduced in the Senate.
  • 857 House bills received Committee hearings, as did 377 Senate bills, meaning 86 percent of bills die after being introduced.
  • By the end of the Congress, only 296 Public Laws had been enacted. Granted some of these bills included the text of several bills, but if we were to assume 1 law = 1 bill, then that would mean 96.7 percent of bills introduced in the previous Congress did not become laws.

How long did it take for those bills to get passed into law? Pulling data from (Advanced Search > 113th Congress > “billStatus:”Became Law” > Sort by “Date of Introduction-Oldest to Newest”), the author got:

  • Average: 263.57 days
  • Median: 215 days
  • Minimum: 1 day (1 – H.J.Res.131: “Making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2015, and for other purposes,” a government shutdown stopgap)
  • Maximum: 712

Net net…we shouldn’t expect rapid change in US laws under the current system!