How a bill becomes law
One important job for elected representatives is studying, debating, and voting on bills presented to the House. A bill can change a law that is already in place or it can introduce a new law.
A bill has to be in the proper format to be accepted for debate and once a bill is accepted it can only be changed with the approval of the House. To be approved, bills go through three separate stages with time between each stage for members to study the proposed law. A bill can move through more than one stage in one day if necessary, if there is unanimous consent of the House.
When a bill is introduced in the legislature the member who promotes it asks permission of the House to have it "read a first time". A clerk reads the title of the bill and the member provides a brief explanation of its intent and purpose. The bill is then provided to all members and made available to the public. There is no discussion of the bill and no changes can be made at this stage but it is added to the list of items that members can bring to the floor for debate. Members have an opportunity to review the bill before it moves to the next stage.
At this stage members debate the bill's principle, to discuss the general idea of the bill. No changes to the text of the bill can be made at second reading.
Committee of the Whole House
Committee of the whole House is a period of debate when the Speaker leaves the chamber and all members collectively debate a bill or review the budget as a committee, with one member serving as chair. When a bill reaches this stage it can be read through line-by-line and considered in detail by all members. The bill promoter often asks permission of the House to have experts accompany them onto the floor to help answer questions about the bill's language and intent. Amendments can be suggested by any member and are debated and voted on.
When the debate on the bill has finished, the Speaker returns to the chamber and the Chair of the committee of the whole House reports the committee's activities. If the debate on the bill isn't yet finished the Chair reports that they made progress and will need to discuss it again. If the debate on the bill has been finished, the Chair reports whether the committee agreed to the bill, and whether the bill was amended during the debate.
Third reading and pass
Third reading is the last time members can debate a bill. The debate on third reading focuses on the possible effects the bill might have if it becomes law. Once debate ends, members vote on whether the bill should pass.
If a member believes the bill requires more changes or more debate, they can make a motion that the bill be sent back to committee of the whole House. This can be done instead of the bill being read a third time, or after the bill has been read a third time and passed.
In the last step to becoming a law the bill is presented to the Lieutenant Governor to receive assent in the Queen's name. When a bill receives Royal Assent it becomes law.
Most laws are in effect once they receive Royal Assent but sometimes a new law has a waiting period before it is in force. The law may have a clause that specifies a date or a specific period after which it is in effect, or it may have a clause that says the Lieutenant Governor in Council will announce (or proclaim) the law in effect.
There are three types of bills:
- Public bills are introduced by ministers and deal with public policy or administration
- Private members' bills are introduced by members who are not ministers and deal with public policy or administration, but cannot require spending public money or putting a tax in place
- Private bills have a narrow application and deal with private or local matters that benefit a person, corporation, or municipality