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Sources of Legislative Authority

Constitutional and statutory directives, though few in number, are profoundly important to the legislature. They establish the bicameral (two-house) structure of the legislature, specify the size of the legislature and the qualifications and terms of office of legislators, regulate the frequency and duration of regular legislative sessions, and dictate the basic procedures for making valid laws.

Within these constitutional and statutory parameters, the legislature is free to establish its own internal organization and procedures. Leaving the legislature largely to its own devices in internal matters is in keeping with the constitutional principle of separation of powers.

The Senate and House establish their own organization by various means:

  • House and Senate rules. The state constitution authorizes each house to "determine the rules of its proceedings"—an expression of the separation of powers principle. Using this authority, the Senate and House adopt rules that dictate much of the organization and procedures of the two houses.
  • Joint rules. The two houses also adopt joint legislative rules establishing common standards for bills and other legislative documents, procedures for inter-house relations, and protocols for transmitting legislative documents to the governor and for conducting joint conventions. (Joint conventions are formal, decision-making meetings of the whole legislature, both houses together. These are rare, in keeping with the bicameral structure imposed by the constitution. The main example is the joint convention to elect regents of the University of Minnesota.
  • Custom and precedent. When confronted with an internal question, the House and Senate tend to look past practices for guidance. Accordingly, legislative organization and procedures are partly an expression of custom, tradition, and precedent in each house.
  • Mason's Manual. A standard manual of legislative procedure offers guidance when formal rules and established usage are lacking. For this purpose, the rules of the House and the Senate both direct the use of Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure, now published by the National Council of State Legislatures.

October 2008