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Legislative Faqs

expand1. When is the House in session?

A new Congress begins at noon January 3 of each odd-numbered year following a general election, unless it designates a different day by law. A Congress lasts for two years, with each year constituting a separate session. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 requires Congress to adjourn sine die no later than July 31 of each year unless there is a declared war, or unless Congress otherwise provides. In odd-numbered years, the Congress must take an August recess if it fails to adjourn by July 31. Neither the House nor the Senate may adjourn for more than three days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays) without the concurrence of the other Chamber. It has also become a common practice for the Congress to adjourn after making provision for the House and Senate leaders to summon the Congress back into session in emergency circumstances. Similarly, the Constitution grants the President the authority to summon the Congress for a special session if circumstances require.

expand2. How can you tell what is currently happening on the House floor?

Activities on the House Floor are updated on-line throughout the legislative day. View the current floor schedule.

expand3. What are the customary proceedings when the House of Representatives meets?

The Speaker calls the House to order, and the Sergeant at Arms places the Mace on the pedestal at the right of the Speaker's platform. After the Chaplain offers a prayer, the Speaker recognizes a Member to lead the House in the Pledge of Allegiance. Then the journal of the previous day's activities is approved, usually without being read. Next, the Speaker may recognize a few Members to speak briefly on matters of importance to them, for no longer than one-minute each. The House then is ready to begin or resume consideration of a bill, resolution, or conference report. The Committee on Rules provides information on the general parliamentary procedure.

expand4. What is the difference between a term of Congress and a session of Congress?

A term of Congress is two years in duration commencing on January 3rd of each odd-numbered year. A session of Congress, however, is the annual meeting with each term being divided into two sessions. When Congress is actually meeting, it is said to be "in session."

expand5. What is the difference between a joint session and a joint meeting?

Congress holds joint sessions to receive addresses from the President and to count electoral ballots for President and Vice President. Congress also holds joint meetings to receive addresses from such dignitaries as foreign heads of state, heads of government, or from distinguished American citizens.

expand6. How do Representatives obtain permission to speak?

In the House, Members stand, address the presiding officer and do not proceed until recognized to speak. The presiding officer (the Speaker of the House, Speaker pro tempore or the chairman in the Committee of the Whole) has the authority to ask Members for what purpose they seek recognition. The presiding officer may then recognize or not recognize the Member, depending upon the purpose for which recognition was requested.

expand7. How do Representatives introduce bills?

A bill that is to be introduced is typed on a special House form and signed by the Representative who will introduce it. A Representative may introduce a bill any time the House is in session by placing it in a special box known as the "hopper," which is located on the Clerk's desk on the House floor. How Our Laws Are Made at the THOMAS website provides additional information on the legislative process.

expand8. Are there time limitations on debate on the House floor?

In the House, a matter may undergo one hour of debate, usually equally divided between the majority and the minority without unanimous consent. Moreover, the majority can call for the "previous question," and bring the pending matter to an immediate vote. Non-legislative debate is limited to one-minute per Member at the beginning of the day and up to one hour per Member at the end of the day. In the Committee of the