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Frequently Asked Questions About the Minnesota Legislature

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Glossary of Terms

Legislative Terms and Definitions

  • amend: the action a legislator takes to change or propose a change in a bill, motion, report, or even another amendment by adding, omitting, or altering language.
  • appeal: a resort to a higher court from a lower court.
  • appropriation: Authorization to spend money from the state treasury for purposes established in law.
  • bicameral: a legislature containing two houses.
  • biennium: 1) the two-year period by which the state budget is set. Money is appropriated for a two-year budget cycle during the odd-numbered years. The fiscal biennium runs from July 1 in an odd-numbered year to June 30 in the next odd-numbered year. 2) the two-year legislative term, which begins in January of an odd-numbered year and ends in December of an even-numbered year.
  • bill: a proposal calling for a new law, a change in current law, the repeal of current law, or a constitutional amendment. It consists of a title, enacting clause, and body (text), which is examined and approved by the revisor of statutes.
  • bill, House advisory: a proposal for the initiation, termination, alteration, or study of a law or program which may be drawn up informally in everyday terms. Advisories are used only in the House.
  • bill, resolution: a proposal, introduced as a House or Senate file, that urges another governmental body, to take or refrain from a certain action. A resolution can also simply express the opinion, sentiments, or intent of a body, or both, if the resolution is a joint one.
  • Calendar: a list of bills that are awaiting floor action in either the House or the Senate. In the Senate, bills are placed on the "Calendar" after approval in the Committee of the Whole. In the House, the Rules Committee places bills on the "Calendar for the Day" for consideration on the House floor.
  • Calendar for the Day: a list of bills designated by the Rules Committee to be considered on the floor by the House.
  • caucus: 1) a group of House members or the same political party or faction such as the "DFL Caucus," the "Republican Caucus," the "Majority" or the "Minority Caucus''; 2) a meeting of such a group.
  • Chamber: Either of the houses of a bicameral Legislature. The term also can be used to refer to the room in which each chamber meets.
  • chief author: the main author, or sponsor, of a bill.
  • Chief Clerk of the House: An employee elected by the House to provide assistance and advice to the Speaker and to members of the House of Representatives in meeting the legal and parliamentary requirements of the lawmaking process and to record the history of that process.
  • Committee of the Whole: all members of a legislative body acting as a committee to debate and/or amend bills on General Orders. The Committee of the Whole is used only in the Senate.
  • companion bills: identical bills introduced in the House and Senate.
  • concurrence: action in which one body approves or adopts a proposal or action taken by the other house.
  • conference committee: a group of six or 10 members, with equal numbers from the House and Senate, who are appointed to reach a compromise between the House and Senate versions of a bill.
  • conference committee report: language of a bill as agreed upon by a conference committee.
  • Consent Calendar: a list of non-controversial bills that are awaiting their second reading.
  • constituent: A resident of the district that a legislator has been elected to represent.
  • convene: To officially begin the meeting of the legislative body.
  • district: A geographic area within the state represented by a single member of the state Senate or House of Representatives. The state constitution does not allow the boundary of a House district to cross the boundary of a Senate district; in effect, House districts must be nested within Senate districts. The number of legislative districts is prescribed in law.
  • effective date: The date on which a law takes effect. Most laws (except for appropriations) take effect on August 1st following a session, unless the bill specifically says otherwise. Bills appropriating money take effect on July 1st following its final enactment, unless a different date is specified in the act. See Minnesota Statute 645.02 Effective Date and Time of Laws for further information.
  • enacting clause: the constitutionally required portion of a bill which formally expresses the intent that it become law: "Be it enacted by the Legislature of the state of Minnesota . . ."
  • engrossment: the current text of a bill or resolution which includes or incorporates all adopted amendments to the title and/or text.
  • enrollment: a bill that has been passed by both houses and has been put in final form to be presented to the governor for his signature.
  • Executive branch: Consists of elected state constitutional officers and all state agencies, boards (not in the judicial branch), and commissions.
  • final passage: the vote taken on a bill after its third reading, requiring a majority of all elected members of a legislative body for approval.
  • first reading: the reporting of a bill to the body at the time of its introduction and referral to committee.
  • Fiscal Calendar: A list of finance bills designated by the chairs of the House Ways and Means Committee or the House Tax Committee for floor consideration in the House.
  • fiscal note: Fiscal notes put a price tag on proposed legislation, and are very important in the legislative process. A fiscal note should be an objective opinion on the change in expenditures and revenues that will result from a bill. A fiscal note may influence if a bill passes, if it fails, or if changes need to be made to the bill to adjust the cost or revenue.
  • floor: after a bill passes through the committee process, it is sent to the "floor" in either the House or Senate, meaning it is placed on any of the various bill lists while awaiting debate by all members.
  • floor session: That part of a legislator’s work day that takes place when the full House or Senate meets in its chambers to conduct business.
  • gallery: Balcony area above a legislative chamber. The public can watch the floor sessions from here.
  • General Orders: a list of Senate bills that have had second readings and may be debated and/or amended by the body acting as the Committee of the Whole, or taken up as a Special Order. See "General Register" for the House.
  • General Register: A list of bills that have been reported out of House committees, have been given their second reading, and are awaiting placement on a calendar for floor action.
  • hearing: Public discussion scheduled by a standing committee for the purpose of gathering information and making recommendations to the full House or Senate on a bill.
  • House advisory: (see bill, House advisory)
  • House file: the number assigned to a bill before it is introduced. It is listed at the top of the bill. HF2379, for example.
  • interim: The months between adjournment of one regular session of the Legislature and convening of the next.
  • introduced (n., introduction): the formal presentation of a bill to a body of the Legislature. The bill gets its first reading at this time and is then referred to a committee.
  • joint committee: Group formed with members from both chambers.
  • journals: refers to either the Journal of the Senate or the Journal of the House, which are the official records of the respective bodies.
  • justice: a title given to judges, usually those who serve on the U.S. or state supreme courts.
  • judge: a person who presides over a court.
  • Judicial branch: Branch of government that includes all state courts and employees: the Minnesota Supreme Court, court of appeals, and district courts. Also includes several boards performing judicial functions.
  • Legislative branch: Consists of House, Senate, and joint legislative groups.
  • legislative intent: what the Legislature really meant when it approved a specific law.
  • legislative session: the term session is used loosely and has many different meanings -- l) the two-year period during which the Legislature meets; 2) regular session refers to the annual meetings of the Legislature; 3) daily sessions refer to the times when the House and Senate meet in their respective chambers.
  • line item veto: (see veto, line item)
  • lobbyist: a person acting individually or for an interest group who tries to influence legislation.
  • majority: the party that has the most members elected in either the House or the Senate.
  • majority leader: The leader of the party that has the most members in a legislative chamber.
  • majority whip: A legislator selected by the majority party to help the majority leader.
  • minority: the party, that has the fewest members elected in either the House or Senate.
  • minutes: A record of actions taken at a committee meeting. The minutes serve as the official record of the meeting.
  • new language: the language in a bill that is added, or proposed to be added, to existing state law. New language in bills is always underlined.
  • omnibus: a term used to describe tax, education, appropriations, and other bills that contain many different proposals.
  • Order of Business: The established order of activities in floor sessions each legislative day.
  • page: a person employed by the House or Senate to run errands, to assist committees, and to perform a variety of other legislative tasks.
  • pocket veto: (see veto, pocket)
  • President of the Senate: A senator elected by the Senate to preside over Senate proceedings.
  • quorum: A majority of each house, or each committee, constitutes a quorum to transact business.
  • recommendation: the action a committee takes on a bill. Although in common usage a committee is said to pass a bill, technically, it recommends a bill to pass.
  • redistricting: A process carried out once a decade to adjust the boundaries of U.S. congressional districts and state legislative districts in response to population changes shown by the U.S. census. State legislatures are responsible for creating new congressional districts and new state legislative districts.
  • regular session: The Minnesota Constitution requires the legislature to meet each biennium, during the two-year term of office of members of the House of Representatives. The constitution leaves the timing of these “regular” legislative sessions to be prescribed by law. The law says that regular sessions are to begin just after newly elected legislators commence their term of office on the first Monday in January of the odd-numbered year.
  • repassage: a final vote on a bill previously passed in another form to include amendments of the other chamber, a conference committee or amendments.
  • repeal: to eliminate a law, or section of a law, by an act of the Legislature.
  • resolution: (see bill, resolution)
  • second reading: reporting of a bill to the body, following the adoption of the committee report, that places it on a list for floor consideration.
  • Secretary of the Senate: An employee who hires and supervises Senate employees, keeps the records of the Senate, transmits bills and resolutions to the House, and serves as parliamentary adviser to the Senate.
  • Senate file: the number assigned to a bill before it is introduced. It is listed at the top of the bill. SF1354, for example.
  • session: 1) the biennial period during which the Legislature meets; 2) regular session, the annual meeting of the Legislature between the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January and the first Monday after the third Saturday in May; 3) special or extra session, a meeting of the Legislature after the end of 120 legislative days in the biennium or after the date set by law for adjournment; 4) daily session, a meeting of the House or Senate in its chamber. (Note: The House and Senate meet only two days a week during the early part of the session; every day after the session's midpoint.)
  • session laws: The laws enacted at each session of the legislature, published in the approximate order of enactment. Session laws generally are referred to as the “Laws of Minnesota,” with a citation to the chapter number for the year of enactment (e.g. Laws of Minnesota 2009, chapter 101).
  • sine die: when the Legislature adjourns "without a day", in the even-numbered years, the second year of the biennium.
  • Speaker of the House: A representative selected by the majority party to preside over House proceedings.
  • Special Orders: a list of bills that have received a second reading, and are designated for priority consideration by the Chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, that may be debated and/or amended, immediately given a third reading, and considered for final passage. In the House, bills are placed on the "Calendar for the Day" or the "Fiscal Calendar" for floor consideration.
  • Special session: A special session is one called by the governor at a time other than a regularly scheduled session. The legislature, though, determines the length and purpose of any such session.
  • sponsor: a chief author or co-author of a bill.
  • standing committee: A group appointed according to the rules of the House or Senate that holds public hearings on bills in a specific policy area, such as transportation or agriculture.
  • Statutes: The term “statutes” is used to refer to laws of a general and permanent nature. These laws are gathered in a compilation known as “Minnesota Statutes”. Minnesota Statutes is an arrangement, by subject matter, of all the laws currently in effect. Laws that are not of a general nature (e.g. laws that apply to only one unit of local government) or that are temporary, are published in a compilation of session laws in the year of enactment, but are not compiled into Minnesota Statutes.
  • stricken language: language that is proposed to be eliminated from existing state law. Stricken language in bills is always crossed out.
  • table: A motion used to set aside consideration of a bill. When a bill is tabled, it cannot be taken up again unless a motion is adopted to take the bill off the table.
  • testify: To present evidence for or against a bill at a committee hearing.
  • third reading: the final reporting of a bill to the body before its final passage. No amendments, except amendments to the title, may be offered after the third reading unless unanimous consent is granted.
  • unicameral: a single body legislature.
  • unofficial engrossment: amendment by the other house of a bill which has been passed by its house of origin. For example, the House cannot officially amend a Senate bill, so when the House considers a Senate bill and makes changes, that engrossment is unofficial until the bill returns to the Senate and the Senate adopts the engrossment.
  • veto: the constitutional power of the governor to refuse to sign a bill, thus preventing it from becoming law unless it is passed again (with a two-thirds majority) by both houses of the Legislature.
  • veto, line item: the power or action of the governor, rejecting a portion or portions of an appropriations bill, while approving the rest.
  • veto, pocket: rejection of a bill by the governor after the Legislature has adjourned sine die, preventing its reconsideration by the Legislature.
  • yield: to surrender the floor temporarily to another member for the purpose of hearing a question or inquiry. "Madam Speaker, will Rep. Brown yield to a question?"

Text primarily taken from People and the Process: A Legislative Study Guide, published by the Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Office, 1991.

Minnesota State Legislature