Know Your Government
Law-making in Tennessee*
as in other states of the United States, the state's laws are
exclusively by one of the three separate branches of state government,
known as the legislative branch. "Legislative" means "making
laws." The other two branches are the executive and the
judicial. The executive branch executes and enforces the state
the judicial branch construes and interprets the laws in the application
to the affairs of man.
The name of the
legislative authority may vary from state to state, but usually
it is called the Legislature or the General Assembly. The official
title in our state is the "General Assembly of the State
of Tennessee," but it is entirely proper to refer to the "Legislature".
Legislature is composed of two bodies, or houses, called the Senate
and the House of Representatives. The Senate has 33 members, including
its presiding officer, or speaker, who is also, by virtue of his
office, the lieutenant governor of the state. The House of Representatives
has 99 members, including the speaker. The members of each house
elect the speakers from among their membership.
elected by popular vote of the people every even-numbered year.
Senators' terms are for four years but expire on a staggered basis.
Senators representing even-numbered districts are elected in one
election year, while senators representing odd-numbered districts
are elected in the next election year. Senators' represent counties
called a senatorial district or in the case of the four urban counties
represent a senatorial district within the county. Most of Tennessee's
95 counties have one or more direct representatives, but some of
the smaller counties are combined into what is known as a floterial
district and they are represented by a floterial representative.
convenes in the State Capitol in Nashville on the first Tuesday
in January of every odd-numbered year for an organizational session
lasting not longer than fifteen calendar days. There follows a recess
of approximately six weeks, whereupon the legislators then convene
on the fourth Tuesday in February to begin their regular lawmaking
session. There is no limit on the length of the regular session
but members may adjourn or recess from time to time as they consider
necessary. However, members may not be paid their expenses or travel
allowances for more than ninety legislative days. That is, days
when the Legislature is actually in session for the conduct of business.
When the Legislature
initially convenes, the first order of business is the swearing
in of the members elect. The two bodies meet in their respective
chambers and the members take an oath of office, swearing to support
the constitution of the United States and the constitution of Tennessee
and to perform their official duties impartially without favor or
prejudice, and to always protect the rights of the people.
of each body next elects a presiding officer or speaker, and also
elects a chief clerk, an assistant chief clerk, and a chief engrossing
Each body then
adopts its rules of procedure and the speakers appoint certain standing
committees to give initial consideration to proposed legislation
and report recommendations to the full body for action.
formal expressions of legislative intent may be made in any of four
ways: (1) public acts; (2) private acts; (3) resolutions; and (4)
Acts, public or
private, are the end result of bills and do not become acts until
they are passed in identical form by both houses of the Legislature
and either (1) signed by the governor or (2) allowed to become law
by the governor's failure to return the bill stating his objections
to it, within five days (Sundays excepted) during the session after
it has been presented to him, or (3) passed by a majority of all
the members of each house, notwithstanding the objections of the
governor, where he has vetoed the bill.
A bill is the
form in which a proposed law is drafted for introduction in the
Legislature, and it remains a bill until final legislative and executive
action is taken on it.
the terms public acts, general acts, public laws, and general laws
are used interchangeably in referring to legislative enactments
of statewide application, although "public acts" is the
or special acts refer to acts applicable to one or more, but not
all, subdivisions or parts of the state.
bills, do not become the law of the state when acted upon by the
Legislature, but serve merely to express the will of the majority
of the body by which they are adopted. Resolutions are termed House
Resolutions or Senate Resolutions, depending upon the house in which
they are adopted. Resolutions passed by both houses are joint resolutions.
Joint resolutions are a higher form of expression of the legislative
will, and, although they are not laws, they do have the force of
law for certain limited purposes. If they originate in the Senate,
they are Senate Joint Resolutions; if they originate in the House,
they are House Joint Resolutions. Joint resolutions require the
approval of the governor and are subject to the same rules as bills
with reference to vetoes, passage over the governor's veto, and
taking effect upon failure of the governor to sign or veto them.
A legislator may
introduce a bill on the floor of the body of which he is a member
merely by holding it aloft until a page takes it from him to the
chief clerk's desk. Bills must be typewritten on legal size paper
(8 ½" by 14") and are introduced in the original
and whatever number of copies the rules may require. Both the bill
and the copy, or copies, are jacketed in manuscript covers of different
and distinctive colors. The signature or signatures of the member,
or members, sponsoring the bill must be placed on the cover, which
also must contain a brief statement of the nature and purpose of
When the bill
reaches the chief clerk's desk, he examines it to see that it conforms
to legislative rules and numbers it.
Since the Tennessee
Constitution provides that no bill shall become a law until it shall
have been read and passed on three different days in each house,
a somewhat complex procedure then follows concerning the bill.
There being no
objection, the bill is passed on first reading by the chief clerk
reading the number, sponsor and title of the bill.
day, the bill is again read, usually by number and title, passed
on second reading, and referred by the speaker to the appropriate
standing committee. The committee studies the bill and reports to
the Senate or the House, as the case may be. Public hearings may
or may not be held on the bill, depending upon the subject matter
and the interest aroused by the bill.
for passage by the committee, the bill then goes to the Committee
on Committees, also called the Calendar Committee, which places
the bill on the calendar, that is, sets the time for the bill to
be considered by the full House or Senate as the case may be.
The bill is then
called up for passage, and after being read the third time and discussed
or debated, it may be passed with or without amendment by a majority
of the members to which the body is entitled. (50 or more votes
in the House of Representatives; 17 or more votes in the Senate.)
The bill now having
been passed in one body then goes to the office of the chief engrossing
clerk, where it is retyped, without errors or erasures and is transmitted
to the other body, where it is read on three different days, passed
on the third reading by a majority, and sent to the chief engrossing
clerk, where it is enrolled, that is retyped, without errors or
erasures, on a heavy-weight paper. The bill is then signed by the
two speakers and forwarded to the governor for his signature. Having
been signed by the governor, or having been allowed to become a
law without his signature the bill now becomes an act of the Legislature
and is sent to the office of the Secretary of State, where it is
assigned chapter number and filed, thus becoming a law of the State
||Prepared by the Tennessee Legislative Council
staff for high school student groups who visit the Capitol during