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Article Index


Chapter XI

Manner of Enacting Laws.

§1. When the two houses are duly organized and ready for business, the governor sends to both houses a written communication called _message_, in which, as the constitution requires, he gives to the legislature information of the condition of the affairs of the state, and recommends such measures as he judges necessary and expedient. The message is read to each house by its clerk.

§2. But the measures to which the governor calls the attention of the legislature, are but a small portion of those which are considered and acted upon. Many are introduced by individual members. Others are brought into notice by the petitions of the people in different parts of the state. _Petition_ generally signifies a request or prayer. As here used, it means a written request to the legislature for some favor--generally for a law granting some benefit or relief to the petitioners. Petitions are sent to members, usually to those who represent the counties or districts in which the petitioners live, and are by these members presented to the house.

§3. Now it is evident, that a proper consideration of the numerous subjects pressed upon the attention of the legislature--some of them of very great importance--must require much labor. If the necessary investigation of so many subjects should occupy the time of the whole house, there would not be time enough to act upon one-half of them. Therefore, in order to dispatch business, the labor of the house must be divided, that the investigation of all the different subjects may be going on at the same time.

§4. Hence arises the practice which prevails in all legislative bodies, of the appointment of committees. As soon as may be, after a house is organized, committees are appointed on all subjects usually acted on in the legislature. A legislative committee is generally composed of three, five, or seven members, who examine the subjects referred to them, and report the result of their examination to the house. Committees are appointed by the presiding officer of each house. Occasionally, though very rarely, they are elected by the house itself.

§5. Some or all of the following committees are appointed in every legislature: a committee on finance, or the funds, income, and other money matters of the state, sometimes called the committee of ways and means; a committee on agriculture; a committee on manufactures; committees on the incorporation of cities and villages; on banks and insurance companies; on railroads; on canals; on education; on elections; on public printing, besides many others. So numerous are these subjects, that in constituting the committees, every member may be put on some committee.

§6. All matters relating to these subjects of a general nature, which arise during the session, are referred to their appropriate committees. Thus, a question or proposition relating to banks, is referred to the committee on banks; matters relating to rail-roads, are referred to the committee on rail-roads; those relating to schools, are referred to the committee on education, &c. As these committees continue during the session, they are called _standing_ committees. When a question arises having no relation to any subject on which there is a standing committee, it is usually referred to a _special_ or _select_ committee appointed to consider this particular matter.

§7. Committees meet in private rooms, during hours when the house is not in session; and any person wishing to be heard in favor of or against a proposed measure, may appear before the committee having it in charge. Having duly considered the subject, the committee reports to the house the information it has obtained, with the opinion whether the measure ought or ought not to become a law. Measures reported against by committees, seldom receive any further notice from the house.

§8. From what has been said, the utility of committees is readily seen. Although no proposed measure can become a law unless acted on and approved by the two houses, its necessity may be inquired into, and the information necessary to enable the house to act understandingly upon the question, may be obtained, as well by a few members as by the whole house. By the daily examination of so many subjects in committee, a large amount of business is soon prepared for the house to act upon, and much of its time is saved.

§9. If a committee reports favorably upon a subject, it usually brings in a bill with its report. A _bill_ is the form or draft of a law. Not all bills, however, are reported by committees. Any member of the house desiring the passage of a law, may give notice that he will, on some future day, ask leave of the house to introduce a bill for that purpose; and if, at the time specified, the house shall grant leave, he may introduce the bill. But at least one day's previous notice must be given of his intention to ask leave, before it can be granted.

§10. The different steps in the progress of a bill, or the different forms of action through which it has to pass, are numerous. A minute description of them in a work designed chiefly for youth, will scarcely be expected. A thorough knowledge of the proceedings of legislative assemblies, can be practically beneficial, in after life, to but few of those who shall study this elementary treatise. Those who shall hereafter have occasion for this knowledge, will find works adapted to a more mature age, in which the subject is fully treated.

§11. A bill, before it is passed, must be read three times; but it may not be read twice on any one day without unanimous consent, that is, the consent of the whole house; or, as is believed to be the rule in some bodies, the consent of three-fourths, or two-thirds of the house. In some legislatures, the rule allows the first and second readings to be on the same day. A bill is not to be amended until it shall have been twice read. Nor is it usual for it to be opposed until then; but it may be opposed and rejected at the first reading.

§12. After a bill has been twice read, and fully debated and amended, it is proposed to be read on a future day the third time. If the question on ordering the bill to a third reading is not carried, the bill is lost, unless revived by a vote of the house to reconsider. But if the question to read the third time is carried, the bill is accordingly read on a future day, and the question taken on its final passage.

§13. When the final vote is to be taken, the speaker puts the question: "Shall the bill pass?" If a majority of the members present vote in the affirmative, (the speaker also voting,) the bill is passed; if a majority vote in the negative, the bill is lost. Also if the ayes and noes are equal, it is lost, because there is not a majority in its favor. In a senate where a lieutenant-governor presides, not being properly a member, he does not vote, except when the ayes and noes are equal; in which case there is said to be a _tie_; and he determines the question by his vote, which is called the _casting_ vote. In some states, on the final passage of a bill, a bare majority of the members present is not sufficient to pass it, in case any members are absent. The constitutions of those states require the votes of a majority of _all the members elected_ to each house.

§14. When a bill has passed one house it is sent to the other, where it must pass through the same forms of action; that is, it must be referred to a committee; reported by the committee to the house; and be read three times before a vote is taken on its passage. This vote having been taken, the bill is returned to the house from which it was received. If it has been amended, the amendments must be agreed to by the first house, or the second must recede from their amendments, or the amendments must be so modified as to secure the approval of both houses, before the bill can become a law.

§15. Some young reader may inquire why a bill should take so long and slow a course through two different houses; and why one body of representatives is not sufficient. The object is to secure the enactment of good laws. Notwithstanding bills go through the hands of a committee and three different readings in the house; yet through undue haste, wrong information, or from other causes, a house may, and often does, commit serious errors. Legislatures are therefore divided into two branches; and a bill having passed one house is sent to the other where the mistakes of the former may be corrected, or the bill wholly rejected.

§16. But in many of the states, a bill, when passed by both houses, is not yet a law. As the two houses may concur in adopting an unwise measure, an additional safeguard is provided against the enactment of bad laws, by requiring all bills to be sent to the governor for examination and approval. If he approves a bill, he signs it, and it is a law; if he does not sign it, it is not a law. In refusing to sign a bill, he is said to _negative_, or _veto_ the bill. _Veto_, Latin, means, _I forbid_.

§17. But no governor has full power to prevent the passage of a law. If he does not approve a bill, he must return it to the house in which it originated, stating his objections to it; and if it shall be again passed by both houses, it will be a law without the governor's assent But in such cases greater majorities are generally required to pass a law. In some states, a majority of two-thirds of the members present is necessary; in others, a majority of _all the members elected_. In a few states, only the same majorities are required to pass a bill against the veto as in the first instance. Or if the governor does not return a bill within a certain number of days, it becomes a law without his signature, or without being considered a second time. In some states, bills are not sent to the governor, but are laws when passed by both houses and signed by their presiding officers.