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Frequently Asked Questions About the Minnesota Legislature

Legislative Terms and Definitions

In addition to the terms and definitions below, you may also be interested in A Glossary of Fiscal Terms & Acronyms by the House Fiscal Analysis Department.

  • 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: request a lower court's decision be heard in a higher court.
  • appropriation: authorization to spend money from the state treasury for purposes established in law.
  • bicameral: a legislative body containing two branches or chambers.
  • 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.
  • 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: A caucus is a group of representatives or senators who affiliate with the same political party or faction, such as "DFL Caucus," the "Republican Caucus," the "Majority" caucus, or the "Minority" caucus. Also, any meeting of such a group is called a caucus.
  • 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: the Committee of the Whole is the entire membership of the Senate acting as one large committee to consider bills listed on General Orders. There is no longer a Committee of the Whole in the House.
  • companion bill: once a bill is introduced in either house, the chief author may find someone to carry the companion bill in the other body. A companion bill is usually identical when introduced, though that may change.
  • concurrence: action in which one body approves or adopts a proposal or action taken by the other house.
  • conference committee: a committee appointed to reconcile the differences between two versions of a bill that has been passed by both the House and Senate. A conference committee has either three or five members from each body.
  • conference committee report: language of a bill as agreed upon by a conference committee.
  • Consent Calendar: a list of local or non-controversial bills that are given a second reading and bypass the General Register in the House or General Orders in the Senate, making them eligible for debate, possible amendment, third reading and final passage all in one day.
  • constituent: a resident of the district that a legislator has been elected to represent.
  • convene: to officially begin the meeting of a legislative body.
  • district: the state of Minnesota is divided into 67 geographical areas called legislative districts. Voters elect one senator from each of those districts. Each Senate district is divided into two sections. Voters elect one House member, or representative, from each section, making a total of 134 representatives. These districts are identified with an "A" or a "B."
  • 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. Laws appropriating money take effect on July 1st following its final enactment, unless a different date is specified in the bill. 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: the executive branch administers and executes the laws passed by the legislative branch. The President of the United States is the chief executive at the federal level, and the governor serves as the state's chief executive. They are aided by the officials appointed to head the various agencies and departments and by the other officials elected to the executive branch. The persons elected to executive branch positions—governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor, and attorney general—are referred to as constitutional officers.
  • final enactment: when a bill is signed by the governor, or when a bill passes the governor's deadline without being vetoed. See "Is there a timeline for the governor to sign bills?".
  • 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 spending or revenue bills to be taken up by the full House on a given day. Bills can be placed on the Fiscal Calendar by the chair of the Ways & Means Committee or the chair of the Taxes Committee.
  • fiscal note: fiscal notes put a projected cost or savings 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: the balcony area above a legislative chamber. The public can watch the floor sessions from the gallery.
  • 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 bill: a proposal for the initiation, termination, alteration, or study of a law or program which may be drawn up informally in everyday terms.
  • House file: the number assigned to a bill before it is introduced. It is listed at the top of the bill. "HF2379" is an example.
  • interim: the months between adjournment of one regular session of the Legislature and convening of the next.
  • introduced (or 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.
  • journal: the Journal of the Senate and the Journal of the House 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 day: See the FAQ - What is a Legislative Day?

  • legislative intent: what the Legislature sought when it approved a specific law. See Minnesota Statutes 645.16 Legislative Intent Controls for further information.

  • line item veto: the power of the governor to reject one or more items of appropriations in a bill, while approving the rest of the bill.
  • 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 proposed to be added to existing state law. New language in bills is always underlined.
  • omnibus bill: a large bill that is generally made up of numerous smaller bills on the same broad topic.
  • 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: a pocket veto occurs when the governor fails to sign a bill within 14 days after the Legislature has adjourned sine die (the end of the biennial session), preventing its reconsideration by the Legislature.
  • President of the Senate: a senator elected by the Senate to preside over Senate proceedings.
  • quorum: a minimum number of members of each house or each committee necessary to conduct the business of that group.
  • 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 Tuesday after the second 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: resolutions are formal actions of the Legislature which express intent on the part of one or both bodies, but are not codified into Minnesota statutes upon passage. Each body can pass a separate resolution to express individual intent. They can also pass resolutions jointly or concurrently.
  • 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" is an example.
  • session: There are four possible things people are referring to when they refer to the legislative session —
    1) the biennial session that begins on the first Tuesday after the second Monday in January in an odd-numbered year and ends no later than the first Monday after the third Saturday in May of the even-numbered year.
    2) the yearly session, which begins on the day the Legislature assembles and ends on the day it adjourns for the year.
    3) daily sessions, which adjourn each day, are any time the House or Senate meet on the floor of their respective chambers. At such times, both bodies are referred to as "in session."
    4) a special session is one called by the governor at a time other than a regularly scheduled session. The legislature, however, determines the length and purpose of any such session.
  • session laws: the laws enacted at each session of the legislature, published in the approximate order of enactment. Session laws are generally referred to as the "Laws of Minnesota," with a citation to the chapter number for the year of enactment (for example, Laws of Minnesota 2014, chapter 145).

  • sine die: Latin for "without a day." Adjournment without setting a definite date for meeting again is called adjournment sine die. It signifies the end of the biennial legislative session.
  • 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. The bills 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 session called by the governor at a time other than a regularly scheduled session. The legislature, however, determines the length and purpose of any such session.
  • sponsor: a chief author or co-author of a bill.
  • stand-alone bill: a bill that is not part of a larger (omnibus) bill. The term is often used when a bill's content could be expected to be included in an omnibus bill but is not, or is split out from an omnibus bill to be considered separately.
  • 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: laws of a general and permanent nature. These laws are gathered in a compilation known as "Minnesota Statutes," an arrangement by subject matter of all the laws currently in effect. Laws that are not of a general nature (for example, 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: the language in a bill 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 a 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.
  • 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?"