Learning About U.S. Laws and Regulations


There are many different classifications for laws in the United States. The two most common distinctions between laws are state and federal. Federal laws are rules which apply to the entire United States, while state laws only apply to a specific location. In many cases, there are overlap between the two types of laws. In these situations, federal laws act as a general overview. For example, federal groups like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pass traffic laws and regulations relating to highway driving. These laws must be enforced, but the exact nature of the laws can vary from state to state. This is why speed limits vary from state to state.

The majority of crimes fall under state laws. Divorce, public assistance, inheritance, real estate and personal injuries are other examples of state laws. Federal laws focus less on personal issues and instead on broader systems. Immigration, bankruptcy, Social Security, civil rights and copyright laws are all examples of federal laws and regulations. Some criminal cases fall under federal laws as well. These normal involve federal institutions, with tax related crimes being the most common.

Difference Between Laws and Regulations

Laws and regulations are often used interchangeably, and while they are similar, there are differences between the two groups. Laws and regulations both refer to rules which must be followed. The main difference is laws are written with everyone in mind, while regulations are written with groups in mind. For example, workplace safety regulations require businesses to adhere to certain rules to keep their employees safe. If a regulation is broken, the business is held accountable. In comparison, if an employee gets into a fight with another employee, the instigator would be charged with breaking the law, but the business would not be charged with assault.

How Federal Laws and Regulations are Passed in the United States

Federal laws are decided through a lengthy process by the United States Congress. New laws are formally proposed by lawmakers, who propose turning the idea into new legislation. While lawmakers are the only ones who can formally propose new ideas, anyone is allowed to bring up potential laws to the lawmakers. The final draft of a proposal is known as a bill.

  • Once the bill is written, a member of congress, which includes senators and House of Representatives members, must sponsor the bill. A sponsored bill is introduced in front of congress, but it is then sent to a smaller group of lawmakers, known as a committee. Committees specialize in certain areas, such as tax or immigration laws.

  • How long it stays in a committee varies depending on the bill. In some cases, a bill is approved right away and moves on to the next phase. In other cases, the committee may bring in experts or the original lawmakers to clarify or make changes to the bill. If the committee decides the bill is not ready, it is either rejected outright, or it is temporarily tabled. When the bill is tabled, the committee makes an official decision at a later date. During this period, the original lawmaker may make changes to the bill.

  • If the committee approves the bill, it is brought before either the House or Senate, depending on who sponsored the bill. A vote is held. If the vote passes, it then goes to the other chamber, where another vote is held. Even if both the House and Senate approve the bill, there is still a period where additional changes are discussed.

  • Finally, the bill is sent to the president. The president has the right to veto the bill, which sends it back to congress. Yet another vote is held in this case. As long as two thirds of senate and House members vote the bill, the veto is overridden and the bill becomes a law. Otherwise, the president either signs the bill into law or takes no action. Even if the president takes no action, the bill becomes a law, but only if Congress is officially in session.

Regulations have a much easier process compared to laws. Regulations are decided by a government agency. Once the agency proposes the new regulation, a public hearing is held. During the hearing, the participating parties have a chance to argue for or against the regulation. The regulation is either passed, possibly with changes, or rejected.


Commonly Requested Laws and Regulations

Both federal laws and regulations are constantly being passed or changed. A hot topic issue for many lawmakers is immigration. There are groups on both sides who either want immigration laws lessened, making it easier for immigrants to legally enter the United States, while others want to impose harsher restrictions, such as limiting the number of international visas or passing harsher laws on immigrants who enter the country illegally.

Another law commonly being debated has to do with minimum wage. Minimum wage is one of the laws which has both federal and state implications. The federal law mandates the lowest wages states are allowed to set. However, certain states use a much higher minimum wage. Related to minimum wage are overtime laws. There are many corporations which use loopholes to deny overtime pay, such as limiting it to full time employees. Many individuals want looser laws, which close common loopholes businesses use to deny employees overtime or hazard pay.

There are also many requests to change laws and regulations relating to family and medical leave. In many cases, employees are only able to get medical leave if they are either in a higher ranked position in the company, or if they meet a certain number of hours worked. With family leave, parents are pushing for a general paternity leave, instead of the current maternity leave.