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U.S. Government Template
Transcript of U.S. Government Template
How Laws Are Made
We the People...
The Legislative Branch
The national legislative branch in Washington DC is Congress. That’s the place where national laws are made. There are 535 members serving in Congress: 435 members in the House of Representatives and 100 members in the U.S. Senate.
Each session of Congress lasts two years. Same goes for the California Legislature.
Congress is bicameral, which means it has two houses. There are two houses because of the Connecticut Compromise (also known as the Great Compromise) at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, where delegates agreed to create a legislative body that helped balance power between smaller states and larger states.
Membership in the House is based on each state’s population, while every state gets two seats in the Senate.
There are a couple of other differences between the House and the Senate. The House has more formal rules; the Senate has fewer rules, but those rules are fairly quirky.
The Senate is also more prestigious than the House, because who’d rather join a club with 435 members when you could be in a club with 100 members.
Before 1787, the Articles of Confederation had established a Continental Congress with just one legislative body.
When the Constitution changed Congress to have two bodies, the House was supposed to be directly elected by the people, while the Senate would be elected by state representatives.
The California Legislature has two bodies, just like Congress.
The Legislature is made up of an Assembly with 80 members and a Senate with 40 members. There are a total of 120 members in the Legislature.
There are a few other differences between Congress and the California Legislature. Members of Congress don’t have limits on how many terms they can serve. But in California, members of the Legislature can only serve 12 years in the Assembly or the Senate.
Members of the U.S. House represent districts. Same goes for California Assemblymembers and state senators. Each district has a different number of people.
The average size of U.S. House districts depends on the state, but most are between 500,000 and 1 million people. In California, assembly districts average about 465,000 people, and senate districts average 930,000 people.
And of course, U.S. Senators represent states. There’s a huge difference in how many people might be represented by one senator. California’s two senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, each represent roughly 19 million people because the Golden State has 38 million residents.
For instance: North Dakota's two senators each represent roughly 350,000 people because that state only has about 700,000 residents. That’s a huge difference.
Let’s talk about how laws get made. Representatives and senators each have the power to write proposals for new laws. These proposals are known as “bills.” Sometimes a bill is referred to as “legislation.”
Only the legislative branch can introduce bills. In Washington, the president cannot introduce bills , and the same goes for California’s governor in Sacramento.
The executive branch can’t introduce bills, but it can ask a lawmaker to introduce legislation on its behalf. That’s how governors and presidents propose certain policies. Only members of the legislative branch can introduce and pass new laws.
Okay, so lawmakers can write bills. What happens next?
Lawmakers have to introduce their bills, which means they show up at work in either the Senate or the House of Representatives if they’re serving in Washington, or they show up in either the Senate or Assembly in Sacramento if they’re California lawmakers, and they formally submit their bills to the clerk, who enters the bill into the official record and gives it a special number.
The number includes the first letter (or letters) of the name of the legislative branch where it’s introduced. For instance, bills in the U.S. House of Representatives include “HR” before the number, bills in the U.S. Senate include an “S” before the number.
In California and in Washington DC, the Senate is considered the upper house, while the House, or the Assembly if we’re talking about the state legislature, is called the lower house.
Some people question whether the U.S. Senate is a fair model for representation because of the disparity between big states and small states.
Once a bill is introduced, the clerk assigns the bill to a committee. The committees are the most important part of the legislative branch because they do all the work. They hold hearings and host testimony from speakers on specific bills.
If it passes, the bill goes to the other body, where the process starts all over again. If the bill passes a vote in the other body without any changes, it must be approved by the executive branch — either the governor or the president, depending if we’re talking about the California Legislature or Congress.
If the executive branch approves the bill and the governor or president signs it, the legislation becomes a law. If the executive branch vetoes the bill, meaning it rejects the legislation, the bill goes back to Congress if we’re talking about Washington DC, or back to the California Legislature if we’re talking about Sacramento.
In either case, the legislative branch can override the executive veto with a vote of two-thirds in each house.
Congress has only overridden 10 percent of all presidential vetoes in history.
So, that’s how laws get made. Proposing and passing laws is the most important part of being a member of Congress or the California Legislature.
The 17th Amendment changed that rule in 1913 to allow the people to directly elect their senators.
There’s another big difference between the House and Senate. The Senate has something called a filibuster. It’s a period of unlimited debate to block a bill.
Think of it this way: It’s an old-school tactic to stall until other senators give in and change their minds about a specific bill or amendment; or until 60 percent of the Senate votes to end the filibuster through a process called “
If a senator actually filibusters, he or she can’t leave the Senate floor or can’t yield his/her right to speak (unless it’s for a question or for a point of order), and must talk more or less continuously. The longest filibuster in history was 24 hours, 18 minutes long.
Filibusters only happen in the Senate. The House allowed filibusters until 1842, when members enacted a new rule that limited debate to just one hour per representative. Some state legislatures still allow filibusters.
But the filibuster still exists in all its glory on the other side of the U.S. Capitol. Some political analysts and commentators in the media love the Senate’s filibuster because it’s a true act of democracy.
In California, our Legislature doesn’t have a filibuster, although that would be cool if it did.
Here’s an example: HR 100 would be the 100th bill introduced in the House of Representatives in a certain session. “S. 100” would be the 100th bill introduced in the U.S. Senate in a certain session.
In California, bills include the first letter and the letter “B,” which stands for bill. Here’s an example: “SB 100” would be the 100th bill introduced in the California Legislature in a certain session.
LegSim: The Preseason
Group 1: Immigration
Group 2: Fair pay
Group 3: Education reform
Group 4: Gun control
Group 5: NSA surveillance
Group 6: Climate change
Group 7: Free trade w/ Europe
Group 8: Health care reform