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Understanding the four types of legislation

Updated on August 9, 2013

Legislations created in Congress are of four types but understanding what each type represents and their meaning may be confusing. This not only applies in the Senate and the House of Representatives but also together. Along with the types to be discussed will be the issue of whether the force of law is in effect when they are generated. The legislative process for many of us who vote and possibly those who do not is often confusing and it is necessary we understand not only the types but their meaning and impact.

The first type of legislation to understand are those considered to be bills comprising of two types: public and private. While the vast majority of legislative proposals are in the bills category the difference between the public and private type may raise some questions. While the private type of bill may have a purpose like anything else it can be abused. Bills basically deal with domestic and foreign issues along with programs and they do not become law until they are signed by the president. While dealing with domestic and foreign issues bills deal with a variety of needs for us the public and may address specific classes of citizens.

Public bills which are generated are sometimes exposed to us through the media and while not all are covered the media chooses which ones to cover. This may be a good thing or a bad thing in some respects given the fact that thousands of legislations are processed within Congress each year. In this respect the media is somewhat doing us a favor rather than us trying to keep up with all legislative actions. It would be a daunting task at best.

In terms of public bills they for the most part affect what we can and cannot do each day. One way this occurs is through the creation of regulations in direct relation to laws which come under an agency or department’s authority. One area involves our freedom to make decisions we feel need to be made. This affects not only individuals but businesses.

Both public and private bills must be identical before they can be sent to the President for signature. The exception to getting a Presidential signature involves legislation which overrides a veto by a President. This however, does not occur often as indicated in historical documents.

The second type of bill/legislation involves the umbrella of private action by Congress. Private bills to some extent may be questionable dependent upon the content and purpose. Private bills benefit specific individuals and in some cases corporations. Individuals sometimes request relief through private legislation when administrative or legal remedies have been exhausted. In this situation private legislation may have a question of ethics on whether such legislation is justified. Granted there are times when legal decisions are made which may not coincide with the intent of legislation when it was passed by Congress. Private legislation is one avenue to correct appearance of errors in judgment through our legal system. While our judicial system is one of the best if not the best in the world not all decisions are considered to be the right ones and can be appealed. Some may say this is a way for Congress to circumvent the judicial process but I feel it is a way to correct misinterpretations generated by court decisions.

Some examples of private legislation may involve benefit claims, claims for military decorations or taxation problems. Claims against the government can also be addressed through private legislation. The title of a private legislation usually involves the phrase for the relief of. Immigration and granting citizenship or permanent residency is another subject addressed through private legislation

The next topic concerns joint resolutions. Joint resolutions are really no different than bills as they must be identical before they can be sent to Congress. This type of legislation is generally used for continuing or emergency appropriations. The avenue to propose an Amendment to the Constitution is through the means of a joint resolution which must be approved by two thirds of both houses of Congress and three fourths of the states. The difference between this type and bills is that it does not require the signature of the President to become part of the Constitution.

The final two types of legislation are concurrent resolutions and simple resolutions. Concurrent resolutions must be passed in the same form by both houses and are typically used to amend rules which apply to both houses but the important point to remember is they do not have the effect of law. Simple resolutions are used by either house of Congress to give advice on foreign policy or other executive business and they to do not require the signature of the President or the approval of the other house. Simple resolutions might also be used to express condolences to families who have lost a loved one particularly if it is a member of Congress.

Understanding legislation types is important when actions by Congress fall into one of these categories. The actions by Congress in any or all of these types are often mentioned in the news but we may not realize the impact, if any on our lives. Legislative processes are difficult to understand at best but with an understanding of the types, their meaning and their impact will help us to distinguish if it is something to which we may want to get involved.


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