Island County Democrats

Government 101

Where do I Start?

So confusing.....

So confusing.....

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a Congressman, Senator and a House Represenative, or how a law is created, or how much power does the President actually have?  What in the heck IS an Executive Order, anyhow? Do you wonder what role you play or how much power you have as a citizen of the United States?  Yah, me too. If you need a refresher course on Civics here's some helpful bits of information and links to more in depth explanations. Have fun!

 


WASHINGTON STATE

Overview of the Legislative Process

The Washington State Legislature is made up of two houses (or chambers), the Senate and the House of Representatives. Washington has 49 legislative districts, each of which elects a Senator and two Representatives (Whidbey and Camano Island are in the 10th Legislative District, and as of 2017 are represented by Senator Barbara Bailey and Representatives Norma Smith and Dave Hayes). Senators serve four-year terms and Representatives serve two-year terms. The Senate and House of Representatives meet in session each year to create new laws, change existing laws, and enact budgets for the State. 

The legislative cycle is two years long. Within that two-year cycle, there are two kinds of legislative sessions: regular sessions and extraordinary, or special, sessions. Regular sessions are mandated by the State Constitution and begin the second Monday in January each year. In the odd-numbered year, for example, 2005, the regular session is 105 days; in the even-numbered year, for example, 2006, it is 60 days. Extraordinary sessions are called by the Governor to address specific issues, usually the budget. There can be any number of extraordinary sessions within the two-year cycle, and they can last no more than 30 days. To see the legislative calendar for the most recent session, go to the Cut-off Calendar on the Agen das, Schedules, and Calendars page. 

The members of the House and Senate offer legislation, or bills, for consideration. The ideas for bills come from a number of places: something has happened in the last year that inspires new legislation (for instance, the change in people's perception of crime gave rise to the youth violence bills that were offered during the 1994 Session), a member wishes to address an issue that is specific to his or her district, the Legislature decides to tackle a major issue (such as regulatory reform), changes in technology dictate a change in the State's laws, etc. 

Once a member introduces a bill, the legislative process begins. The process has a number of specific steps. If the bill makes it through all the steps in the chamber in which it was introduced (the "first house"), it goes to the other chamber (or "second house") and goes through the same steps there. Each step is identified and explained below. MORE


Citizen's Guide to Effective Legislative Participation

Every year the Legislature meets to engage in the process of public decision making. The objective is to reach consensus on a wide range of issues affecting every citizen and the future prosperity of Washington State. The process involves cooperation to make critical decisions in everyone's best interests. 

We have chosen representatives to carry out the difficult task of determining which laws and policies will best serve these interests. However, to effectively perform their job, legislators rely heavily on input from many different sources. 

They receive a great deal of technical information from their staffs, state agency personnel and professional lobbyists. Yet, much of what they actually decide depends on the views, interests and preferences of the citizens who elect them. 

This is precisely how the legislative process was designed to work. It is based on a close, open and positive relationship between elected officials and the citizens whom they represent. 

You can actively participate in the legislative process in a variety of ways.  MORE


How a Bill becomes a Law 

  1. A bill may be introduced in either the Senate or House of Representatives by a member.
  2. It is referred to a committee for a hearing. The committee studies the bill and may hold public hearings on it. It can then pass, reject, or take no action on the bill.
  3. The committee report on the passed bill is read in open session of the House or Senate, and the bill is then referred to the Rules Committee.
  4. The Rules Committee can either place the bill on the second reading calendar for debate before the entire body, or take no action.
  5. At the second reading, a bill is subject to debate and amendment before being placed on the third reading calendar for final passage.
  6. After passing one house, the bill goes through the same procedure in the other house.
  7. If amendments are made in the other house, the first house must approve the changes.
  8. When the bill is accepted in both houses, it is signed by the respective leaders and sent to the governor.
  9. The governor signs the bill into law or may veto all or part of it. If the governor fails to act on the bill, it may become law without a signature. MORE

To learn MORE about how our State Government works, visit our Washington State Legislature Website's Information Center HERE


Washington DC

The Constitution

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The Three Branches of Government

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The President + Congress


How a Bill Becomes Law


The Electoral College