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How The City Council Enacts Laws

The process involves hearings, committee reports, and a vote by City Council members.

Councilors establish and put in place public policy to meet the changing needs of Boston. They create these policies by initiating legal documents, such as ordinances and home rule petitions. The Council also evaluates matters — such as loan orders — sponsored by the Mayor.

Every year, they also review and approve the City’s operating and capital budget. Councilors track City services to guarantee their efficiency and reasonable cost.

City Council hearings

The City Council chair will send a docket, or item, on the agenda to a committee for review. The committee chair can hold a hearing on the issue. The chair needs to send Notice two days before the hearing to:

  • all City councilors
  • the press, and
  • any interested parties.

The invitation needs to give the date, time, and place where the committee will hold the hearing. Hearings are open to the public. Those most affected by the issue give their testimony. After that, anyone at the hearing can testify in person or give the committee a written testimony.

At the end of the hearing, the chair — with the backing of the majority of the committee — will send a report to the full City Council with its recommendation on the issue. The committee can recommend that the item:

  • Ought to Pass
  • Ought Not to Pass
  • Be Placed on File, or
  • is Rejected Without Prejudice.

If the committee doesn’t send a report to the full City Council, the item stays in the committee. The committee chair can ask for another hearing on the issue or send a report to the City Council at a later date.


A committee can recommend in their report that a docket Ought Not to Pass. This means the committee thinks the City Council should not approve the item. If a majority of the City Council agrees with the recommendation, the item is rejected.


A committee can also recommend in their report that a docket Ought to Pass or Ought to Pass in a New Draft. If a majority of the City Council agrees with the recommendation, the City Council will send the item to the Mayor. If the Mayor approves the item, it becomes law.

The Mayor has veto power

If after 15 days, the Mayor doesn’t take any action, the item approved by the City Council becomes law, with some exceptions.

If the Mayor vetoes, or rejects, the item, the City Clerk sends the Mayor’s objections to the City Council. The councilors can make changes to or take action on the item. After seven days, the City Council can also override the veto if two-thirds of the council votes to approve the docket.

With ordinances, home rule petitions, and 17F orders, there are other consequences. 

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