Committees: A General Introduction
The committee is the heart of the legislative process. The committee
does what the Senate and the House of Representatives could not do as
well by functioning as a whole. The committee can and
should do the fact-finding groundwork.
The formation of committees breaks down the membership into
numerous small groups. Opportunity is thus afforded the Senate and the
House for closer study of a bill than would be possible in debate on the
floor. In this preliminary screening, the committee will hear from the
legislator who introduced the bill. It will hear, too, from other legislators
who either favor or oppose the bill.
The committee may go outside the Legislature to learn the opinion
of interested persons who may be well informed on the subject of the bill.
The committee can subpoena for witnesses and for records. It can also use
the research facilities of the Legislature to analyze the situation here and in
other states. Citizens who wish to be heard are also allowed to speak at committee meetings.
Technically, both the Senate and the House, sitting as a committee,
could do all these things. But committees can and do perform
the work more efficiently and thoroughly. The volume of business in
today's Florida Legislature is considerable. It would be difficult to complete
if the entire body attempted to study every bill upon its introduction.
Basically, there are standing, select, and
Standing Committees and Councils
Standing committees are established by the Senate and the
House of Representatives for the management of their business. They are
established by authority of rules separately adopted by the Senate and by
the House. The appointment of committee members, and the designation
of the committee chairs and vice-chairs, are made in the Senate by
its President and in the House by its Speaker. Proposed legislation is referred
to a standing committee. The committee then has the
responsibility of passing judgment on that legislation. Each committee
may originate legislation within its field of expertise.
The presiding officer refers bills to one or more committees for review. Committees may vote to take the following actions on a bill: favorable, favorable with amendments, favorable with committee substitute, unanimously favorable, or unfavorable. If amendments are adopted, they still must be heard and adopted by the full legislative body.
It also should be kept in mind that nearly every bill must travel the
same long road in each house. A Senate-passed bill may be referred to one
or more committees when it reaches the House of Representatives. And the
same is true in the Senate of a House-passed measure.
In the House of Representatives, committees are grouped under Councils. Once a bill has been reported favorably by all committees of reference, it is automatically referred to the council of the committee of the first reference unless the Speaker determines otherwise when the bill is first referenced. Councils have the same authority and may take the same action on bills as committees.
The Rules and Calendar Committee in the Senate and the Procedural and Redistricting Council in the House determine the order in which bills are scheduled for consideration on the floor of the respective chambers.
Select committees are those that have been appointed, or selected to
perform a specific task. The life of a select committee may last for a few
minutes for example, the time required for one house to notify another of
its readiness to transact business on the opening day of the legislative
session, or a select committee might last for years.
The powers of each select committee are set forth in the action creating it. Some are given the authority to subpoena witnesses and open records.
Some are empowered to employ counsel and clerical assistance.
For a bill to become an act it must be passed by both houses in
precisely the same words and figures. The second house
frequently amends and returns the bill to the house of origin.
In the case of significant bills, with substantial differences, the
shortcut of a conference committee likely will be taken almost immediately.
Conference committees are among the oldest of lawmaking procedures,
dating back to early days of the British Parliament. In America,
colonial legislatures used conference committees. In Congress, a conference
committee was appointed on its second day, in 1789.
A conference committee in reality is composed of separate committees
from the Senate and the House of Representatives. As separate committees,
they vote separately, not only on the final product but on any
subsidiary questions put to a vote. A majority of each committee prevails.
Conference committees are intended to reconcile differences. This
suggests a give-and-take process because if a majority of the conferees from
either house refuses to budge, the conference would be stalemated and the
bill could fail. However, this rarely happens.
The Senate and House have the conference committee report presented
on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. No amendments can be offered.
Occasionally, a report will be rejected and the bill sent back to conference.
Usually, however, conference reports are submitted in the waning hours of
a session when the shortness of time might mean the bill would be lost or
the Legislature called into an extended or special session. Thus, the
committee has the pressure of time on its side.
The Senate President and House Speaker agree upon the number of
conferees. (The General Appropriations Bill, by its magnitude, requires a larger conference committee.) The conferees are known as managers.
They generally are appointed from the committee that handled the bill
but sometimes the President or Speaker will go outside the committee to
select one or more conferees. Usually this occurs when the House/Senate
has so amended the bill during floor consideration that the bill may no longer resemble the bill reported from the committee. Then, those who
shaped the bill during floor consideration may more easily speak for the
House/Senate in the conference committee.
Joint committees are composed of both House and Senate members.