Friday, October 9, 2009

The Legislative Process -- First Reading

The legislative process is the process of government by which bills are considered and laws are enacted. With the exception of Nebraska's unicameral legislature, the other 49 states each have a legislature consisting of two chambers (bicameral), making the enactment of laws predicated upon the agreement of both chambers of the legislature. North Carolina has a House of Representatives and a Senate that combine as the General Assembly. The nomenclature may differ among the states, yet the functions of the legislative process remain the same.

A sponsor's idea is transformed into a bill draft by a law writer. When satisfactory to the sponsor, the bill is introduced or read the first time. "First reading" happens when the bill number, the name of the sponsor, and the long title of the bill are read on the floor of the house during session ("house" in this context denotes either chamber).

The legislative process is governed by rules. Each chamber adopts by resolution the detailed requirements for filing and acting upon bills, including the scope and bounds of each legislative committee to which bills may be referred for hearing.

Generally, a bill is assigned to a substantive, policy committee based upon the subject matter of the bill.  A bill requiring the expenditure of funds is referred to an appropriations committee. A bill that raises revenue through the imposition of taxes or fees is referred to a finance committee. (Some jurisdictions call these "fiscal" committees.)

A hearing on a bill includes presentation of the bill by the sponsor or a member of the committee, an analysis by legislative staff, and testimony or comments concerning the measure from interested parties. Legislative committee meetings are public meetings for which proper advance notice must be given. The meetings are often well attended when there are bills of general interest or some controversy.

The committee then votes to pass or amend the bill, or to defeat the bill by giving it an unfavorable report. (A bill may die in committee through inaction if the rules allow.) Some bills are re-referred for consideration by another committee. Some bills leave the committee and go directly to the floor for consideration by the body during session.

Next: Second and Third Reading

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