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Government Resources

Government information resources from the United States government and the State of California

Legislative Branch Resources

About the Legislative Branch

The legislative branch of the United States government was established by Article I of the Constitution. The legislative branch consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives which together form the Congress. The Constitution grants Congress the power to enact legislation which means that it is the only part of the government that can make new laws or change existing laws.

The House of Representatives is composed of 435 Representatives. These Representatives are divided among the 50 states according to population. There are also 6 non-voting members who represent the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and four other territories of the United States. The presiding officer of the chamber is the Speaker of the House who is elected by the Representatives. The Speaker of the House is third in the line of succession to the Presidency. Members of the House are elected every two years and must be at least 25 years of age, a U.S. Citizen for at least 7 years, and a resident of the state they represent.

The Senate is composed of 100 Senators, 2 for each state. Senators are elected for six-year terms by the people of each state. Senator’s terms are staggered so that about one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years. Senators must be 30 years of age, U.S. citizens for at least nine years, and residents of the state they represent. The Vice President of the United States serves as President of the Senate and may cast the decisive vote in the event of a tie in the Senate. The Senate has the sole power to confirm Presidential appointments, and to ratify treaties. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule: the House must also approve appointments to the Vice Presidency and any treaty that involves foreign trade. The Senate also tries impeachment cases for federal officials referred to it by the House.

Congressional bills are legislative proposals from the House of Representatives and Senate within the United States Congress. There are eight different types of bills: House bills (H.R.) and Senate bills (S.) require the approval of both chambers (i.e. House and Senate) and the signature of the President to become law; House Joint Resolutions (H.J. Res.) and Senate Joint Resolutions (S.J. Res.) require the approval of both chambers and the signature of the President and are generally used for limited matters, such as a single appropriation for a specific purpose and to propose amendments to the Constitution; House Concurrent Resolutions (H. Con. Res.) and Senate Concurrent Resolutions (S. Con. Res.) require the approval of both chambers but do not require the signature of the President and do not have the force of law and generally are used to make or amend rules that apply to both chambers; House Simple Resolutions (H. Res.) and Senate Simple Resolutions (S. Res.) address matters entirely within the prerogative of one chamber or the other. They do not require the approval of the other chamber or the signature of the President, and they do not have the force of law.