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PROGRESSIVE ACTION ON BILLS
SOME bodies take only one vote upon a proposition, but other parliamentary bodies, with more time at their disposal, take several actions upon a measure before it is finally adopted.
Thus there is a first reading and a second reading. Then there may be the committee stage where the measure may go into the Committee of the Whole or to another committee. Then there is the engrossing and the third reading, after which comes the final passage.
Under this progressive method the measure is presented and read the first time, that it may be formally before the body, and that the house may hear it in full.
On first reading, the clerk or secretary reads it in full, and then the presiding officer states it by title.
Jefferson says: "When a bill is first presented, the clerk reads it at the table, and hands it to the Speaker, who, rising, states to the House the title of the bill; that this is the first time of reading it; and the question will be whether it shall be read a second time, then sitting down to give an opening for objections. If none be made, he rises again, and puts the question whether it shall be read a second time. A bill cannot be amended the first reading, nor is it usual for it to be opposed then, but it may be done, and rejected" (Manual, Section XX).
There must be an interval between the period of the first reading and the time for the second reading of the measure. This allows time for private inquiry and thought.
As to the second reading Jefferson says: "The second reading must regularly be on another day. It is done by the clerk at the table, who then hands it to the Speaker.
The Speaker, rising, states to the House the title of the bill; that this is the second time of reading it; and that the question will be whether it shall be committed or engrossed and read a third time. But if the bill came from the other House, as it always comes engrossed, he states that the question will be whether it shall be read a third time, and before he has so reported the state of the bill no one is to speak to it.
"In the Senate of the United States the President reports the title of the bill; that this is the second time of reading it; that it is now to be considered as in Committee of the Whole; and the question will be whether it shall be read a third time, or that it may be referred to a special committee" (Manual, Section XXV).
Jefferson observes that "If on motion and question it be decided that the bill shall be committed, it may then be moved to be referred to Committee of the Whole House, or to a special committee. If the latter, the Speaker proceeds to name the committee. Any member also may name a single person, and the clerk is to write him down as of the committee. But the House have a controlling power over the names and number, if a question be moved against anyone, and may in any case put in and put out whom they please" (Manual, Section XXVI).
Jefferson states that "In Parliament, after the bill has been read a second time, if on the motion and question it be not committed, or if no proposition for commitment be made, the Speaker reads it by paragraphs, pausing between each, but putting no question but on amendments proposed; but when through the whole, he puts the question whether it shall be read a third time, if it come from the other house, or, if originating with themselves, whether it shall be engrossed and read a third time. The Speaker reads sitting, but rises to put questions. The clerk stands while he reads" (Manual, Section XXXI).
Jefferson continues: "But the Senate of the United States is so much in the habit of making many and
material amendments at the third reading that it has become the practice not to engross a bill till it has passed -an irregular and dangerous practice, because in this way the paper which passes the Senate is not that which goes to the other House, and that which goes to the other House as the act of the Senate has never been seen in the Senate. In reducing numerous, difficult, and illegible amendments into the text the secretary may, with the most innocent intentions, commit errors which can never again be corrected."
In the House of Representatives it is not the Speaker or chairman of the Committee of the Whole, but the clerk, who reads bills on second reading. After the second reading, which is in full, the bill is open to amendment (Digest of the United States House of Representatives, p. 171).
After the second reading, "The bill being now as perfect as its friends can make it, this is the proper stage for those fundamentally opposed to make their first attack. All attempts at earlier periods are with disjointed efforts, because many who do not expect to be in favor of the bill ultimately are willing to let it go on to its perfect state, to take time to examine it themselves, and to hear what can be said for it, knowing that, after all, they will have sufficient opportunities of giving it their veto. Its two last stages, therefore, are reserved for this, that is to say, on the question whether it shall be engrossed and read a third time, and, lastly, whether it shall pass" (Jefferson: Manual, Section XXXI).
Then after another interval the bill is brought up for a third reading and then for the final disposition.
Jefferson again says:
"To prevent bills from being passed by surprise, the House, by a standing order, directs that they shall not be put on their passage before a fixed hour, naming one at which the House is commonly full.
"A bill reported and passed to the third reading cannot on that day be read the third time and passed; because this would be to pass on two readings in the same day.
"At the third reading the clerk reads the bill and delivers it to the Speaker, who states the title, that is the third reading of the bill, and that the question will be whether it shall pass" (Manual, Section XL).
The rule in the United States House of Representatives is as follows: “1. Bills and joint resolutions on their passage shall be read the first time by title and the second time in full, when, if the previous question be ordered, the Speaker shall state the question to be, Shall the bill be engrossed and read a third time? And if decided in the affirmative, it shall be read the third time by title, unless the reading in full is demanded by a member, and the question shall then be put upon its passage" (House Rule, XXI).
Luther S. Cushing, in his large work on The Law and Practice of Legislative Assemblies in the United States of America, says:
"The first reading was for information merely, as to the nature of the provisions, which thus claimed the attention of the House. If the bill as a whole was favorably received, it was ordered to be read a second time. After the second reading, it was debated both as to matter and form. If the matter was approved of, but the form was unsatisfactory, the bill was referred to certain members selected for the purpose by whom the bill was carefully revised, and who suggested to the house such alterations as they deemed necessary. This proceeding was denominated the commitment. The house then went through the bill for the purpose of amending it, according to the suggestions of the committee, and in such other mode as they may think proper.
"When all the alterations had thus been made in the bill, which were necessary to put it into proper form, it was then ordered to be engrossed. When engrossed, the bill was then read a third time, for the obvious purpose of enabling the house to judge, first, whether it was in the form in which it had been agreed upon, and, secondly, whether in that form it expressed the deliberate
sense or will of the house. It might still be amended, if necessary, provided the amendments were such as could be conveniently effected in the bill in its engrossed form, without requiring it to be reengrossed. The final question was then put upon its passage."
Under the old form "When the debate is ended, the Speaker, holding the bill in his hand, puts the question for its passage, by saying, 'Gentlemen, all you who are of opinion that this bill should pass say aye;' and after the answer of the ayes, ‘All those of the contrary opinion say no'" (Jefferson, Manual, Section XL).
"In the House of Representatives the bill is usually in the hands of the clerk. The Speaker states that 'The question is on the passage of the bill,' and puts the question in the form prescribed by Rule I, § 5," which is “As many as are in favor (as the question may be), say Aye;' and after the affirmative voice is expressed, 'As many as are opposed, say No'" (House Digest, pp. 209, 272).
The matter of engrossing bills requires a few words. To engross is primarily to make large or to write large, from in, and a Latin form grossus, thick or large. To engross, therefore, is: "To write out in a fair large hand or in a formal or prescribed manner for preservation, as a public document or record," and the engrossment is: "The act of copying out in large fair or ornamental characters. The copy of an instrument or writing made in large fair characters." Luther S. Cushing, in the work just quoted, says: "It (the bill) was then ordered to be engrossed, 'which is no more than to transcribe the bill fairly out of the paper in which it was written, into parchment' (D'Ewes). The purpose of this proceeding was merely to make a clean copy of the bill with the amendments in their places, on a permanent and substantial material."
The great advantage of having the three readings, with intervals between, is that it gives time for reflection and is calculated to prevent precipitate action.
In addition the opportunity for discussion, deliberation,