What countries have laws or legislative rules requiring legislation to stay on-topic?
August 31, 2009 2:25 PM   Subscribe

What countries have laws or legislative rules requiring legislation to stay on-topic?

Like many American citizens, I'm frustrated with the tendency of our elected officials to attach unrelated earmarks and amendments to "must-pass" legislation. Almost invariably, such additions are not in the country's best interest, but they aren't removed from the legislation because either there's no time (it's MUST PASS LEGISLATION!), it's buried in a bill that's thousands of pages long, or no one will vote against the whole bill because of some silly earmark.

What democracies have rules in place requiring legislation to stay on-topic to prevent this kind of abuse? How well are those rules working?

I seem to recall that one of Australia's legislative bodies instituted just such a rule recently, but no amount of Google-fu is helping me find it.
posted by LightStruk to Law & Government (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In the UK, there is quite an elaborate procedure for ensuring legislation stays on topic. Proposals for new legislation by the government of the day are submitted to Cabinet for approval. The Cabinet committee that deals with this is the Legislative Programme (LP) committee. Once the approval is granted, a draft bill is drafted by Parliamentary Counsel, a specialist team of Government lawyers. The draft bill has a short title and a long title, the latter of which contains all the provisions of the bill. If at a subsequent date either the Government or opposition MPs want to table amendments, they have to be linked to the provisions set out in the original draft, otherwise they are out of scope and hence cannot be accepted.
posted by greycap at 2:46 PM on August 31, 2009

Best answer: The Minnesota state constitution provides in Article IV Section 17: "No law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title."

The Colorado state constitution provides in Article V Section 21: "No bill, except general appropriation bills, shall be passed containing more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title; but if any subject shall be embraced in any act which shall not be expressed in the title, such act shall be void only as to so much thereof as shall not be so expressed."

The West Virginia state constitution provides in Article VI Section 30: "No act hereafter passed shall embrace more than one object, and that shall be expressed in the title. But if any object shall be embraced in an act which is not so expressed, the act shall be void only as to so much thereof, as shall not be so expressed, and no law shall be revived, or amended, by reference to its title only; but the law revived, or the section amended, shall be inserted at large, in the new act. And no act of the Legislature...shall take effect until the expiration of ninety days after its passage, unless the Legislature shall by a vote of two thirds of the members elected to each house, taken by yeas and nays, otherwise direct."

Other state constitutions may have similar provisions, but I believe that it's a somewhat unusual constraint in the US.
posted by jedicus at 3:03 PM on August 31, 2009

Best answer: I don't know too much about non-US legislatures, but the term you want to Google is "germaneness rule".
posted by shadow vector at 3:05 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

How legislators get around this was explained to me once by a Texas state senator when I was in YMCA Youth & Government.

The magic phrase is "and for other purposes". Tack that onto the caption of the bill, and poof! anything under the sun is germane. For example, the title of the Patriot Act is "To deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes".
posted by Gridlock Joe at 3:26 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Kentucky constitution has this requirement.
posted by dilettante at 4:10 PM on August 31, 2009

Article III, Section 6, of the Florida Constitution requires (in part), of the State Legislature, that:

Every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.
posted by swlabr at 4:19 PM on August 31, 2009

I don't know where to look to find the statute for North Carolina, but a lobbyist friend explained to me that the reason the title to this recently-ratified bill is so long was so that the legislators were unable, by law, to make any amendments that would change something in the title. In the case of this bill specifically, some legislators would have wanted amended it to take out "sexual orientation" and/or "gender identity." Because the title has those words (as well as all the other enumerated categories and other important aspects of the law the bill sponsors wanted), they were unable to do that. Voila!
posted by Stewriffic at 4:36 PM on August 31, 2009

Canada has a national system that's similar to that used in the UK. Each province has a similar way of introducing and passing legislation in that a proposed piece of legislation is limited to one subject. Provinces have only House of Commons (US House of Representatives) equivalents, no House of Lords/Senate equivalent where the legislation is reviewed and also passed before becoming law. Whether all this is law or custom, I don't know.
posted by x46 at 7:54 PM on August 31, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, shadow vector, for pointing out the correct legal term. Upon googling "germaneness rule", I discovered that the US House of Representatives already has such a rule! As Gridlock Joe pointed out, that rule is pretty useless if the title permits anything under the sun. Instead, what I really wanted was the "one subject" rule; thank you jeidcus and swlabr.

Therefore, if one combined the germaneness rule with the one subject rule, that would eliminate a whole class of shenanigans, right? The omnibus spending bills that Congress is so fond of would still have unnecessary spending, but wouldn't have any additions to the criminal code, for example.
posted by LightStruk at 5:15 AM on September 1, 2009

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