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Legislative session

This article is about sessions in the context of a legislature. For other kinds of deliberative assembly, see session (parliamentary procedure).

A legislative session is the period of time in which a legislature, in both parliamentary and presidential systems, is convened for purpose of lawmaking, usually being one of two or more smaller divisions of the entire time between two elections. In each country the procedures for opening, ending, and in between sessions differs slightly.

Common procedure

Historically, each session of a parliament would last less than one year, ceasing with a prorogation during which legislators could return to their constituencies. In more recent times, development in transportation technology has permitted these individuals to journey with greater ease and frequency from the legislative capital to their respective electoral districts (sometimes called ridings) for short periods, meaning that parliamentary sessions typically last for more than one year, though the length of sessions varies. Legislatures plan their business within a legislative calendar, which lays out how bills will proceed before a session ceases, although related but unofficial affairs may be conducted by legislators outside a session or during a session on days in which parliament is not meeting.

While a parliament is prorogued, between two legislative sessions, the legislature is still constitutedTemplate:Spaced ndashi.e. no general election takes place and all Members of Parliament thus retain their seats. In many legislatures, prorogation causes all orders of the bodyTemplate:Spaced ndashbills, motions, etc.Template:Spaced ndashto be expunged.[1] Prorogations should thus not be confused with recesses, adjournments, or holiday breaks from legislation, after which bills can resume exactly where they left off. In the United Kingdom, however, the practice of terminating all bills upon prorogation has slightly altered; public bills may be carried over from one legislative session to the next.

This break takes place so as to prevent the upper house from sitting during an election campaign and to purge all upper chamber business before the start of the next legislative session. It is not uncommon for a session of parliament to be put into recess during holidays and then resumed a few weeks later exactly where it left off. Governments today end sessions whenever it is most convenient, and often, a new session will begin on the same day that the previous session ended. In most cases, when parliament reconvenes for a new legislative session, the head of state, or a representative thereof, will address the legislature in an opening ceremony.

In both parliamentary and presidential systems, sessions are referred to by the name of the body and an ordinal numberTemplate:Spaced ndashfor example, the 2nd Session of the 39th Canadian Parliament or the 1st Session of the 109th United States Congress.

Procedure in Commonwealth realms

File:Medieval parliament edward.Jpg
A depiction of the parliament of England in session, with King Edward I presiding, c. 1300

In Commonwealth realms, legislative sessions can last from a few weeks to over a year; between general elections, there are usually anywhere from one to six sessions of parliament before a dissolution by either the Crown-in-Council or the expiry of a legally mandated term limit. Each session begins with a speech from the throne, read to the members of both legislative chambers either by the reigning sovereign or a viceroy or other representative. Houses of parliament in some realms will, following this address, introduce a pro forma bill as a symbol of the right of parliament to give priority to matters other than the monarch and his or her words (always written by the cabinet of the day).[2]

Bills are numbered within each session; in Canada, for example, each period's government House Bills are numbered from C-2 to C-200 (for the House of Commons) and S-2 to S-200 (for the Senate), returning again to C-2 and S-2 following a prorogation (C-1 and S-1 always being the aforementioned pro-forma bill).

In the parliament of the United Kingdom, prorogation is immediately preceded by a speech to both legislative chambers, with procedures similar to the Throne Speech. The monarch usually approves the oration—which recalls the prior legislative session, noting major bills passed and other functions of the government[3]—but rarely delivers it in person, Queen Victoria being the last to do so. Instead, the speech is presented by the Lords Commissioners and read by the Leader of the House of Lords. When King Charles I dissolved the Parliament of England in 1628, after the Petition of Right, he gave a prorogation speech that effectively cancelled all future meetings of the legislature, at least until he again required finances.

In the British and Canadian parliamentary systems, the legislature is typically prorogued upon the completion of the agenda set forth in the Speech from the Throne, called in the UK the legislative programme, and remain in recess until the monarch, governor general, or lieutenant governor summons parliamentarians again. In Canada, however, prorogations have triggered speculation that they were advised by the sitting prime minister for political purposes: for example, in the 40th Parliament, the first prorogation occurred in the midst of a parliamentary dispute, in which the opposition parties expressed intent to defeat the minority government, and the second was suspected by opposition Members of Parliament to be a way to avoid investigations into the Afghan detainees affair and triggered citizen protests.[4][5] Similarly, the provincial legislature for Ontario in Canada was prorogued in October 2012 under similar circumstances, and is alleged to have happened to avoid scrutiny on a number of issues.[6]

Procedure in the United States

In the United States, some state legislatures meet only part of the year. Depending upon limitations of the state's constitution, if business arises that must be addressed before the next regular session, the governor may call a special session.

In the US Congress, when the leaders of the majority party in each house have determined that no more business will be conducted by that house during that Congress, a motion is introduced to Adjourn Sine Die, literally, adjourn "without a day", effectively dissolving that house. Typically, this is done at some point after the general congressional election in November of even-numbered years. If the party in power is retained, it may happen as early as mid-November and members return to their districts for the holiday season. However, when the party in power is ousted or if important business, such as approval of appropriations bills, has not been completed Congress will often meet in a "lame-duck" session, adjourning as late as December 31, before the newly elected Congress takes office on January 3.


  1. ^ Marleau, Robert; Montpetit, Camille. "House of Commons Procedure and Practice > 8. The Parliamentary Cycle". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 13 January 2010. 
  2. ^ Parliament of the United Kingdom. "About > How Parliament works > Parliamentary occasions > State Opening of Parliament". Queen's Printer. Retrieved 13 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Parliament of the United Kingdom. "About > How Parliament works > Parliamentary occasions > Prorogation". Queen's Printer. Retrieved 13 January 2010. 
  4. ^ "Thousands protest Parliament's suspension". CBC. 23 January 2010. Retrieved 24 January 2010. 
  5. ^ "PM shuts down Parliament until March". CBC. 31 December 2009. Retrieved 31 December 2009. 
  6. ^ "Dalton McGuinty’s prorogation of Ontario parliament normal but ‘cynical’". National Post. 17 October 2012. Retrieved 11 November 2012. 

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