Legislative Glossary

This glossary is designed to familiarize you with many of the terms and definitions used within the Legislative Assembly.

Administrative Rule: Any agency directive, standard, regulation or statement of general applicability that implements, interprets or prescribes law or policy, or describes the procedure or practice requirements of any agency.

Agenda: The official work plan for a committee meeting.

Act: Legislation (a bill or joint resolution, see below) that has passed both chambers of Congress in identical form, been signed into law by the President, or passed over his veto, thus becoming law. A bill also becomes an act without the president’s signature if he does not return it to Congress within ten days, Sundays excepted, while Congress is in session.

Amendment: An alteration made or proposed to be made to a measure. Measures may be amended more than once.

Appropriation: A sum of money designated for a particular purpose by an act. For example: an appropriations bill funds a state agency over the upcoming biennium.

Bill: A measure that creates new law, amends or repeals existing law, appropriates money, prescribes fees, transfers functions from one agency to another, provides penalties, or takes other action.

Call of the House/Call of the Senate: A Call of the House or Senate is a means of compelling all members (unless they are excused) of that chamber to present themselves for a vote on a particular matter. If it comes time for a vote, and it appears to members that other members are not present in the chamber, a motion from the floor directs the presiding officer to issue a call of the House or Senate. The call empowers the sergeant at arms to lock the chamber, preventing those present from leaving, and requires the Sergeant at Arms to bring in absent members—under arrest, if necessary—for the vote.

Capital: Refers to the capital city of the state: Salem is the capital of Oregon.

Capitol: The Statehouse or Capitol building.

Caucus: From the Algonquian Indian language, a caucus meant "to meet together." An informal organization of Members of the House or the Senate, or both, that exists to discuss issues of mutual concern and possibly to perform legislative research and policy planning for its members. There are regional, political or ideological, ethnic, and economic-based caucuses.

Chair: The legislator appointed by the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate to preside over an individual committee; for example: the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

Chairperson, Committee: See above.

Chief Clerk of the House: The chief administrative officer of the House of Representatives. The Chief Clerk is elected by all the members of the House, and is responsible for keeping records of the proceedings of the House, supervising House employees, acting as parliamentarian of the House and advising members on parliamentary procedures, and preparing all House publications for printing.

"Christmas Tree" Bill: A "Christmas Tree" bill is generally passed late in a legislative session and contains funding for particular projects. It gains its name from the "ornaments" that are attached to attract votes.

Committee Administrator: The staff "manager" of a committee, responsible for bill management, meeting logistics, assembling background materials and information, and bill analysis.

Committee Counsel: Another name for a committee administrator who is an attorney. Some committees, such as the Judiciary Committee, require that their administrators be licensed attorneys.

Committee Records: Records of minutes, exhibits, and audio tapes of congressional committee meetings.

Committee Report: A one-page report made to the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate by a standing, special, or conference committee, which recommends further action on a measure, or reports the measure without recommendation.

Concurrent Resolution: A measure affecting actions or procedures of both houses of the Legislature. A concurrent resolution is used to express sympathy, commendation, or to commemorate the dead.

Conflict: A conflict occurs when two or more bills amend or repeal the same section, although there may be no substantive conflict in the proposed legislation.

Constituent: A citizen residing within the district of a legislator (or other elected official).

Current Service Level: A budgetary term that refers to any budget proposal which requests future funding for service provision "at the current level." The current service level will reflect changes due to inflation, labor contract changes, caseload changes, and any other changes required to continue to provide the same level of service.

Digest: The brief measure summary found at the top of a bill. The digest is written by Legislative Counsel.

District: The specific geographical area within a state represented by a House member. Congressional districts are drawn so that each has an average of about 650,000 citizens. States with small populations may have only one district (for example, Alaska) while a large state like California has 53 districts.

Emergency Board: The joint committee of senators and representatives that meets during interim periods to address state fiscal and budgetary matters.

Emergency Clause: A statement added to the end of a measure which causes the act to become effective before the accustomed date. An emergency clause either sets a specific date or is effective immediately, which means that the measure will take effect on the date of its signature into law.

Engrossed Bill: A measure that is printed with its amendments included. Such a bill will have "A (or B or C, etc.) Engrossed" printed at the top, which is a signal to legislators before a vote that the bill before them has changed from its original version.

Enrolled Bill: The final official copy of a bill that has been passed by both chambers in identical form. It is certified by an officer of the house of origin (clerk of the House or secretary of the Senate) and then sent on for the signatures of the House Speaker, the Senate president pro tempore and the president of the United States. An enrolled bill is printed on parchment.

Exhibit: Anything submitted for the record which supplements a witness’ oral testimony. An exhibit can also be a copy of a witness’ oral testimony.

First Reading: The recitation on the chamber floor of the measure number, title, and sponsor by the reading clerk upon introduction of a measure in either house (sponsor name is read only in the Senate; the House reads just measure number and title). After the first reading, the measure is referred to committee by the Speaker or President. According to House rules, a bill must go to a relevant substantive committee.

Floor: The area within the bar in both the House and Senate Chambers.

Floor Personnel: This term refers to staff who work in either the Senate or the House chamber. Floor personnel include the sergeants-at-arms, the distribution manager, pages, and doorkeepers.

General Election: An election involving all or most constituencies of a state or nation in the choice of candidates.

Germane-ness: "Germane" means "appropriate, relevant, pertinent." Pertaining to the subject matter of the measure at hand. All House amendments must be germane to the bill being considered. The Senate requires that amendments be germane when they are proposed to general appropriation bills, bills being considered once cloture has been adopted, or, frequently, when proceeding under a unanimous consent agreement placing a time limit on consideration of a bill.

Hearing: A public meeting of a legislative committee held for the purpose of taking testimony concerning proposed legislation.

House of Representatives: The legislative body of 435 members, called representatives, who are elected every two years.

"Indefinitely Postponed": A motion from the floor to postpone further consideration of a bill, without identifying a time certain for further consideration. In the majority of cases, bills that are indefinitely postponed are not heard again.

Interim: The period of time between two sessions of the Legislative Assembly.

Interim Committee: A legislative committee authorized by the Legislative Assembly to study a particular subject or subjects between sessions. Interim committees are appointed by leadership after the end of session.

Joint Committee: A legislative committee composed of members of both houses. NOTE: Committees may also meet jointly: that is, two committees may meet simultaneously, for example, to hear testimony on matters of interest to both committees. Such a meeting does not constitute a joint committee.

Joint Legislative Guide: A directory listing the names and office locations of all members, names and room locations of all committees, a Capitol floor plan, telephone numbers, and other pertinent legislative information.

Joint Resolution: A joint resolution requires the approval of both houses and the signature of the president, just as a bill does, and has the force of law if approved. There is no practical difference between a bill and a joint resolution. A joint resolution generally is used to deal with limited matters, such as a single appropriation.

Journal: The edited record of all the proceedings on the floors of both houses, published after each legislative session.

Leadership: The presiding elected officers of each house: the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. They are elected by all the members of each chamber when the body organizes for a legislative session following a general election. On occasion, "leadership" also refers to the majority and minority leaders, who are elected by their respective caucuses.

Legislative Leadership: The presiding elected officers of each house: the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. (See also Leadership)

Lobbyist: A person who is employed by an organization to represent its interests before the Legislature.

Majority Leader: The Majority Leader is elected by his/her party colleagues. In the Senate, the Majority Leader, in collaboration with the Minority Leader, directs the legislation schedule for the chamber. Each is his/her party’s spokesperson and chief strategist. In the House, the Majority Leader is second to the Speaker in the majority party’s leadership, and serves as his/her party’s legislative strategist.

Measure: A written document used by the Legislative Assembly to propose a law or to express itself as a body. A measure may be a bill, a memorial, or a resolution.

Minority Leader: Floor leader and chief spokesperson for the minority party in each chamber, elected by the members of that party. The Minority Leader is also responsible for devising the party’s political and procedural strategy.

Motion: The formal way of directing debate on the floor. It is the way, for example, that a member introduces a measure for debate on the floor.

Passage: Favorable action on a measure or bill before either house.

Point of Order: A motion from the floor or from a committee member calling attention to a breach of order or a breach of rules.

President of the Senate: The presiding officer of the Senate, elected by all members of the Senate when the Senate organizes for a regular legislative session.

President Pro Tempore: Under the Constitution, the chief officer of the Senate in the absence of the vice president; literally, but loosely, the president for a time. His/her fellow senators elect the president pro tempore, and the recent practice has been to elect the senator of the majority party with the longest period of continuous service.

Primary Election: A preliminary election in which only the registered voters of a political party nominate candidates for office. A political party may allow registered independents to vote in a primary election.

Propositions and Motions: A customary, traditional order of business on the floor where legislators may make a motion if they wish. Otherwise, motions cannot be made until the third reading of a bill.

Quorum: The minimum number of members whose presence is necessary for the transaction of business. In the Senate and House, it is a majority of the membership. A quorum is 100 in the Committee of the Whole House. Both houses usually assume a quorum is present even if it is not. If a point of order is made that a quorum is not present, the only business that is in order is either a motion to adjourn or a motion to direct the sergeant-at-arms to request the attendance of the absentees.

Reconsideration: Taking a second vote on a measure after a motion to do so. A bill may be reconsidered by a committee after being voted out of committee, if it has not yet been dropped at the desk. A vote on a bill may also be reconsidered on the floor.

Refer: To direct a bill to a committee: HB 2000 was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. Bill referrals are made by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House.

Referendum: The submission of a proposed public measure or actual statute to a direct popular vote.

Resolution: A measure used by the House or the Senate (a measure used by both would be a joint resolution) to take an action that would affect only its own members, such as appointing a committee of its members, or expressing an opinion or sentiment on a matter of public interest.

Roll Call: A recitation by the reading clerk of each legislator’s name, done at the beginning of a floor session, or during a call of the House or Senate, for the purposes of identifying those present.

Rules: The guidelines by which the Senate, the House of Representatives, or a committee governs its meetings. Rules are formally adopted at the first convening of the Legislative Assembly or of a committee, and require a vote (with at least a quorum of members present) for official adoption.

Second Reading: Like the First Reading, a recitation of the measure’s number, title, and sponsor by the reading clerk. Second Reading occurs after the measure has been referred to committee, worked on, and reported back to the floor (in the house where it originated) for a vote.

Secretary of the Senate: The Senate's chief administrative officer responsible for overseeing the duties of Senate employees, educating Senate pages, administering oaths, handling lobbyists' registrations and other tasks.

Senate: The legislative body consisting of 100 members, who are elected for a six-year term.
Sergeant at Arms: A non-legislator selected (elected in the Senate, appointed in the House) to maintain order within that chamber.

Session: The period during which Congress assembles and carries on its regular business. Each Congress generally has two regular sessions (a first session and a second session), based on the constitutional mandate that Congress assemble at least once each year.

Speaker of the House: The presiding officer of the House of Representatives, elected by all members of the House when it convenes for a regular legislative session.

Speaker Pro Tempore: Speaker "for a time": a representative elected to serve as the temporary Speaker in the absence of the Speaker of the House.

Special (select) Committee: A committee authorized by Senate or House Rules to study a limited subject.

Special Session: A session of Congress after it has adjourned sine die, completing its regular session. The president convenes special sessions.

Sponsor: The legislator or legislative committee which introduces a measure. The name of this person or committee is printed at the top of the measure.

Standing Committee: A permanent committee during a session authorized and named by Senate or House Rules.

Statute: A codified law. (NOTE: "Codify" means "to arrange laws systematically."

Subcommittee: A subordinate committee composed of members appointed by the chair (or by House or Senate leadership) from the full committee. A subcommittee will consider a narrower range of topics than the full committee.

Summary: The measure summary or digest found printed near the top of a bill.

Sunset Clause: A statement added to the end of a measure which causes the act to "sunset," or become ineffective, after a certain date.

Table: "Table" is used as both a noun and a verb. Tables, n., are found at the back of the calendars, and display legislative information in a variety of ways. Table, v., is used in reference to stopping bills from further action in committees or on the floor: a bill is tabled by a vote, after a non-debatable motion from a member.

Veto: An action of the President in disapproval of a measure that has passed both houses. If the President does not like a bill, he can veto it. There are two ways that he can veto a bill. First, the President can send the bill back to Congress unsigned. In most cases, he will also send a list of reasons he does not like the bill. Second, the President can "pocket" the bill.

After ten days, one of two things happens:

  1. If Congress is in session, the bill becomes a law anywayI
  2. f Congress has adjourned, the bill does not become law and the President has used a "pocket veto". When the President vetoes a bill, it will most likely never become a law. 

Congress can override a veto, but to do so two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate must vote against the President.

Vice-Chair: A committee member chosen by the Speaker or President to serve as the committee chair in the chair’s absence.

Whip: A term used at the federal level to refer to the deputy majority leader. It derives from the British fox-hunting term "whipper-in," which described the person responsible for keeping the foxhounds from leaving the pack.

Witness: A person who testifies before a legislative committee.