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Glossary of Congressional and Legislative Terms

One of the most confusing things for new advocates to deal with is the jargon of government. This glossary contains definitions of terms commonly used in the lawmaking process and in advocacy.

  • Act – A bill that has passed both houses of the legislature. See Law.
  • Advocacy – Speaking out on issues of concern. This can mean something as formal as sitting down and talking to your legislator; as intensive as engaging in efforts to change a change in laws or policies; or as simple as telling your neighbor about the impact of a law.
  • Adjournment – The recess of a legislative house until a later stated time or until the time fixed by its rules for reconvening. Sine die adjournment is the final adjournment of a legislative session. Each house recesses after its daily session and adjourns sine die at the end of each session.
  • Adoption – The agreement by vote of an amendment, motion, resolution, or memorial.
  • Amendment – A proposal to change a procedural motion or proposed legislation.
  • Committee amendment – Recommended changes to a bill, which a committee has agreed upon. Each
  • Bill – A proposed act filed in either house of the legislature (abbreviated as "H.B." for a House of Representatives bill and "S.B." for a Senate bill).
  • Bill number – The identifying number given each bill filed for introduction. Since 1990, Senate bills have received even numbers and House bills have received odd numbers. Bill numbers do not carry over from session to session or from a regular session to a special session.
  • Committee – A panel of legislators chosen by the respective presiding officers to perform specific functions.
  • Committee report – The findings or recommendations of a committee on a measure or matter referred to it or on a subject it has been asked to study. 
  • Constituent – A resident in an elected official's district.
  • Constitution – The written instrument embodying the fundamental principles of the state which establishes power and duties of the government and guarantees certain rights to the people.
  • Constitutional amendment – A joint resolution that proposes an amendment to, or revision of, the State Constitution. After final passage and filing with the Secretary of State, a proposed constitutional amendment is presented to the voters at the next regular general election pursuant to section 5 of Article XI of the State Constitution.
  • Convene – To assemble the legislature or either house thereof. The annual session of the Florida Legislature begins for a period not to exceed 60 days on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March of each odd-numbered year and on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March, or such other date as may be fixed by law, of each even-numbered year.
  • Cosponsor – When a legislator supports a bill, but is not the primary sponsor, they may sign their name onto the bill as a cosponsor to show their support. Legislation can sometimes have hundreds of cosponsors.
  • Delegation – A group of legislators who represent parts of the same county or geographical area.
  • District – The area from which a state senator, representative, or Congressman is elected. The boundaries of state legislative and congressional districts are drawn in the decennial process known as apportionment and redistricting.
  • Effective date – The date upon which an act becomes effective. If a date is not specified in the bill, an act takes effect 60 days after the final adjournment of the legislative session at which it was enacted.
  • Enabling legislation – A bill designed specifically to carry out an adopted constitutional amendment.
  • Enacting clause – The State Constitution requires that each bill be prefaced by the phrase: “Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida.”
  • Filibuster – Delaying tactic used in the U.S. Senate by the minority in an effort to prevent the passage of a bill or amendment. The Senate's rules allow for unlimited debate in some situations, unless a 2/3 vote to end debate passes. A filibuster results when one or more Senators continue "debating" for as long as possible (sometimes for days).
  • Fiscal year – The period used for budgeting and accounting. In Florida state government, this is the period from July 1 of one calendar year to June 30 of the next calendar year.
  • Florida Statutes – An edited compilation of general laws of the state (abbreviated as "F.S.").
  • House – Generally, either body or chamber of the legislature. When capitalized, the term refers to the House of Representatives.
  • Impeachment – The process of considering removal of an office-holder for charges brought against the office-holder. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, members of the Cabinet, justices of the Supreme Court, and judges may be removed from office by impeachment. The House of Representatives has the sole power to impeach. It may do so by a two-thirds vote of the members voting. The Senate tries all impeachments, with the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court presiding. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is required to convict. If convicted, the officer is removed from office.
  • Initiative – An amendment to the state constitution proposed by a number of electors. An initiative is accomplished by filing with the Secretary of State a petition containing a copy of the amendment proposed which has been signed by a specified number of electors.
  • Introducer – The legislator who files a bill for introduction or the committee that votes to file the bill for introduction. The introducer’s name appears first on the bill, in the journal, and in any material dealing with the bill. This term is often used interchangeably with sponsor. A co-introducer or co-sponsor is a legislator who signs a bill in addition to the introducer. If a bill becomes a committee substitute, the first-named introducers and all others then become co-introducers or co-sponsors. See Sponsor.
  • Law – An act becomes a law when the Governor either approves it or fails to sign or veto it within the period specified in the state constitution. An act can also become a law when a subsequent legislature overrides a veto by the Governor. While the legislature is in session, the constitution allows a seven-day period following presentation of a bill to the Governor within which to sign or veto the bill. If the legislature adjourns sine die before an act is presented to the Governor or while an act is in the Governor’s possession, the Governor has 15 days following the date of presentation in which to take action.
  • Legislature – Florida’s bicameral legislature, composed of the 40-member Senate and the 120-member House of Representatives. Each house is the sole judge of the qualifications and elections of its members and has the power to choose its own officers and establish its own rules of procedure. Either house may initiate legislation on any subject. Senators serve four-year, staggered terms and representatives serve two-year terms. No legislator may seek reelection "if, by the end of the current term of office, the person will have served . . . in that office for eight consecutive years." See Section 4 of Article VI of the State Constitution.
  • Lobbyist – One who encourages, directly or indirectly, the passage, defeat, or modification of any legislation.
  • Majority leader – A legislator from the majority party designated by the presiding officer of each house to be the leader of the majority party members in that house.
  • Majority party – The political party having the most members in a house.
  • Minority leader – The legislator elected by minority party caucus in each house to be the leader of the minority party members in that house.
  • Minority party – The political party that has less than a majority of members in a house.
  • Motion – A formal request made by a legislator on the floor or in a committee meeting to take some procedural action. The rules of each house determine the importance of a motion, whether it may be debated, and the vote required for adoption of the motion.
  • President of the Senate – The presiding officer of the Senate, having been designated by the majority party in caucus and then elected by the full membership of the Senate for a term of two years at the organization session.
  • President pro tempore of the Senate – A senator who is chosen by the President and elected by the full membership of the Senate for a term of two years at the organization session.
  • Proclamation – The proclamation issued by the Governor or the Senate President and House Speaker jointly to call the Florida Legislature into a special session. It states the reason for the session, the issues to be addressed during the session, and the length of the session. Also referred to as "the Call."
  • Recess – The period within a legislative day during which a legislative body is not in session after having been convened for that particular day.Referendum – A vote of the electors. A referendum is required as a condition for the effectiveness of a local bill if proof of publication has not been provided.
  • Repeal – The removal of an entire section, subsection, or paragraph of law from the Florida Statutes by the legislature. The repeal of a statute or statutes is accomplished by the insertion of a repealer clause in a bill that becomes a law.
  • Session – The term is used to refer both to a particular day’s meeting of the Senate or the House and to the entire period for which the legislature has been convened. Types of sessions include:
    • Executive session – Section 4(b) of Article III of the State Constitution provides that the Senate may resolve itself into executive (closed) session for the sole purpose of considering a person’s appointment to office or removal or suspension from office.
    • Extended session – A regular or special session that has been prolonged beyond its allocated time in order to complete action on introduced legislation. Extension requires a three-fifths vote by members of each house. Additional business may be considered only by a two-thirds vote of the membership of each house.
    • Joint session – The annual session held the first day of the regular session in the House chamber and attended by members of both houses, the Governor, the Cabinet, members of the Supreme Court, and invited guests. The purpose of this session is for the Governor to inform the legislature concerning the condition of the state, propose such reorganization of the executive department as will promote efficiency and economy, and recommend measures in the public interest. Joint sessions are also held on other occasions.
    • Regular session – This is the name given to the annual session that begins on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March of each odd-numbered year, and on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March, or such other date as may be fixed by law, of each even-numbered year, for a period not to exceed 60 consecutive days.
    • Special session – Special sessions may be called by Proclamation of the Governor or by Joint Proclamation of the Senate President and the House Speaker for the purpose of considering specific legislation, and shall not exceed 20 consecutive days unless extended by a three-fifths vote of each house.
  • Sine die – Latin for without day. The motion to "adjourn sine die" is the last action of a session of the Florida legislative session. Each house may adjourn on its own motion.
  • Speaker of the House of Representatives – The presiding officer of the House of Representatives, designated by the majority party in caucus.
  • Speaker pro tempore of the House of Representatives – A member of the House of Representatives who is designated by the majority party in caucus and then elected by the body. The Speaker pro tempore presides over the House of Representatives at the request of the Speaker or in the absence of the Speaker.
  • Sponsor – A term used interchangeably with introducer.
  • Subcommittee – A part of a committee that deals with a specific issue within the committee's jurisdiction (such as the veterans" benefits subcommittee of the Veteran's Affairs committee). Most legislation is first developed and voted on at this level, as a full committee will usually not consider legislation until it has passed its subcommittee.
  • Veto – Objection by the Governor or President to an act passed by the legislature, which objection kills the act unless it is reenacted later by a two-thirds vote of both houses.
  • Veto, Line item – Power of the Governor to selectively veto items in a general appropriations act or any specific appropriation in a substantive act containing an appropriation. See section 18(b) of Article III of the State Constitution for restrictions on the Governor’s use of this power.
  • Veto override – Action by the legislature to set aside the Governor’s or President's objections to an act. It takes two-thirds of the members voting in each house to override a veto.
  • Whip – Senator or Representative who serves as an internal lobbyist for the Republican or Democratic party to persuade legislators to support their party"s position, and who counts votes for the leadership in advance of floor votes. While the whip is an official position, there may be other members who act as a whip for specific legislation or issues.
  • Withdraw – To remove a bill, amendment, or other legislative matter from a committee or from further consideration by the body.
  • Without objection – A phrase used by the presiding officer to indicate that he or she is disposing of a matter without taking a roll call vote of the members, assuming that the action taken is approved unanimously.
  • Yield – A legislator may release part of the allotted time for which he or she has the floor to another member of his or her chamber, usually for questions or clarification of the yielding legislator’s discussion.

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