What does the legislative branch do?


What does the legislative branch do?

The legislature is perhaps the most important organ of government in the sense that no society can exist without law. It is also believed that an elected legislature is a major distinguishing feature between a democratic and a military government since all forms of government does lawmaking.

The legislative branch is made up of the House and Senate, known collectively as the Congress. Among other powers, the legislative branch makes all laws, declares war, regulates interstate and foreign commerce and controls taxing and spending policies.

This post examines the place and role of the legislature as a major institution of government.

It also discusses the different types of legislature and the reasons why some countries prefer one to the other.

What does the legislative branch do?

The legislative branch is made up of the House and Senate, known collectively as the Congress. Among other powers, the legislative branch makes all laws, declares war, regulates interstate and foreign commerce and controls taxing and spending policies.

Basically, the legislature performs the following functions:

1. Law-Making

The primary function of the legislature is to make laws for the good and well-being of the people as well as for the order and security of the state. Such laws are made in accordance with the state’s constitution and in line with the standing laws and procedure that the assembly has stipulated.

2. Representative Function

Legislature as a body composed of elected representatives of the people. Individual members of the legislature in a democracy are elected to represent their constituencies. They are thus expected to visit and consult their constituencies regularly to feel their pulse for better representation.

3. Deliberative Function

Essentially, the legislature is an arena for keen deliberations; and for this reason, it has been correctly described as a deliberative body. It deliberates on a wide range of issues bordering on welfare, economy, and security, among others.

4. Approval of Annual Budgets

In most countries, the legislature is always known to possess what is called the power of the purse. This implies that the executive cannot legally make any spending without the approval of the legislature. For this reason, the law requires the executive to lay before the legislature its annual spending proposals and its sectorial break down for consideration, vetting and possible approval. It is through this power that the legislature, on behalf of the electorate, can hold the government and its officials accountable either for misuse of public funds.

5. Confirmation of Nominations made by the Executive

Under the constitution, the executive can only make nominations to major government positions as ministers, judges and ambassadors. Until these nominees are screened and confirmed by the legislature they remain only designates into positions. They can be deemed to have been validly appointed only after the approval of the legislature.

6. Oversight Functions

It is also the responsibility of the legislature (usually through a standing committee) to conduct investigations into the activities of government ministries, departments and agencies to overseeing, monitor and if need be, scrutinize the accounts and documents of government agencies in relation to the enabling legislation. A standing committee can also organize public hearings or summon government officials to clarify certain issues or defend decisions already made or proposals under consideration by the agency concerned.

7. Impeachment of the Executive

The legislature also reserves the power to invoke the extreme step of censoring and impeaching the President or vice-president in a presidential system or forcing the resignation of a Prime Minister and the government he presides over if the parliament passes a vote of no confidence on it.

In the United States, President Richard Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974, to escape his impeachment the process, which had already commenced in the congress. At the state level, the House of Assembly can also remove a Governor or Deputy Governor from office.

8. Ratification of Treaties/Agreements

The constitution of most countries stipulates that for a treaty or agreement between one country and another to have a full force of the law, and have a binding effect on the peoples of both countries, it must be ratified by the legislature.

9. Constitutional Amendments

Another important function of the legislature is the power to amend the nation’s constitution. It may modify sections of the constitution or replace it in its entirety.

In a federal system, this power is shared between the inclusive government and the government of the component states. Under the Nigerian constitution, a bill for the amendment of the constitution must receive the support of two-thirds of members of both houses of the National assembly as well as 24 out of the 36 of the states in the country.

Without meeting these stringent requirements, the bill cannot receive presidential assent.

From what we have discussed so far, it is obvious that the legislature is a very important organ of government.

Indeed, in any reference to democratic governance, whether parliamentary or presidential, the organ that captures the mind of many citizens as a symbol of democracy is the legislature.

The Legislative assembly is the place where the public sees democracy in action, in form of debates and consideration of motions and passage of resolutions and bills.

Indeed, the closest politician to the voter is the representative of his constituency in the legislature, like the councilor in a local government council.

Read On: The Legislature: Origin, Types, Functions and Importance

Conclusion on What does the legislative branch do?

The legislature is an important organ of government. In fact, it is the distinctive mark of both democracy and a state’s sovereignty.

However, over time in many countries, and for different reasons, the legislature is losing ground to the executive. This problem is more acute in emerging democracies where the legislators are still struggling to win their independence from the over-bearing influence of the executives.

This article has succinctly examined the origin, types, functions and importance of the legislature. We saw that the history of the legislature is traceable to the classical days of the Greece and Roman Empire and that there are two types of the legislature: the unicameral and the bicameral legislatures, with peculiar attributes.

The article has equally identified lawmaking, representation and oversight functions, among others as the basic functions of the legislature.

It is the performance of these functions that distinguish the legislature as the symbol of democracy.

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