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The Legislative Activity
of the Parliament

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The Legislative Function

The adoption of laws is the primary task of any parliamentary body. In a parliamentary system, the parliament can be the sole legislator; the other possibility is the combination of parliamentary legislation with the adoption of acts through direct democracy, especially a statewide referendum. In the Czech Republic, the Parliament is currently the sole legislator; nevertheless, the Constitution does not preclude direct democracy in future even in the exercise of legislative power, including the constitutional function.

(1) The people are the source of all power in the state; they exercise it through legislative, executive and judicial bodies.
(2) A constitutional act may define when the people shall exercise state power directly.
Article 2 of the Constitution of the Czech Republic

The legislative function includes the adoption of constitutional as well as other laws. The material scope of the constitutional or legislative powers is not precisely defined. In terms of constitutional powers, it is merely stated that the Constitution may be amended only by constitutional acts. The substantive requisites of a democratic state governed by the rule of law may not be amended.  Not even in the case of the acts does the Czech legal system include any complete enumeration of the issues which must or may be regulated by law. Nonetheless, the Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in various places define some areas that always require legal regulation. These so-called reservations of law are the basic instrument setting the minimum limits of legislative activities. The other areas of legal relations can be regulated by law if the legislator, i.e. Parliament, considers it to be necessary and adopts the relevant act complying with the constitutional provisions by means of constitutional and legal procedures.

Besides by acts, legal relations are also regulated by subordinate legislation, which is issued by the government, by individual ministries or by other central government authorities to implement a particular law and within its limits. The Constitution provides that, unlike the government, ministries and other administrative authorities may issue subordinate legislation if they are expressly empowered to do so by a particular law. The formulation of the empowerment in the law must be specific and also such that the authority may not change in the subordinate legislation the conditions given in the relevant act. The issue of subordinate legislation by the government and other authorities is, however, in the system of separation of state powers their own power, which is not derived from individual acts but arises directly from the Constitution.



Legislative Initiative

Bills can only be submitted in the Chamber of Deputies, not in the Senate. Legislation may be initiated by:
— the government,
— each individual deputy,
— a group of deputies,
— the Senate (as a whole)
— regional councils (all 14).

The regulation of the formalities of a bill is provided for by the Act on the Rules of Procedure of the Chamber of Deputies and the Act on the Collection of Laws and International Treaties. Each proposal must include an explanatory memorandum that justifies the main principles of the proposed legislation. The point of these explanations is not only to provide a guideline for deputies when discussing the bill but also to document for future interpretation the purpose (objective) of the bill presented as well as of its individual provisions. The explanatory memorandum must contain, among other things, an analysis of the expected economic and financial impact on the state budget and the budgets of municipalities and regions, as well as an assessment of the compliance of the submitted bill with international treaties and the constitutional order of the Czech Republic. In the case of bills submitted by the government, the explanatory memorandum must also contain an analysis of the impact on, for example, the business environment, the environment, gender equality or the protection of children’s rights.

The bill including all of its attachments is submitted to the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, who refers it to the Steering Committee. The Speaker also distributes the bill to all the deputies and political groups so that they can prepare for its discussion in time. If it is not a government bill, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies sends the bill to the government and asks it to express its stance on the bill within thirty days of the receipt of the request. The government may express its opinion on the bill by: a) agreeing with the bill; b) agreeing with the bill but with comments; or c) disagreeing with the bill. If the government fails to express its opinion in time, then it holds according to the Constitution that the government has responded positively. The standpoint of the government is sent to all deputies and political groups no later than ten days before the first reading of the relevant bill in the Chamber of Deputies. The Steering Committee meets on the submitted bill and recommends that the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies place the bill on the agenda of the plenary session.



Legislative Procedure

According to the Constitution, the procedure for the consideration of laws is such that each bill must first be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies and only after its discussion and approval in the Chamber of Deputies does the bill proceed to the Senate for consideration. There are three basic procedures for debating different types of laws, which differ in the interaction between the two chambers of the Parliament:

a) The ordinary legislative process – this is the most common procedure for passing bills, in which the Senate (after prior approval of the bill by the Chamber of Deputies) has only thirty days to consider the bill. The Senate can reject the bill or return it with amendments. However, the Chamber of Deputies has the right to adhere to the original bill if an absolute majority votes in favour.

b) The adoption of constitutional laws and laws under Article 40 of the Constitution – this is a legislative procedure that is characterised by the equal status of both chambers of Parliament. In this procedure, the thirty- -day limit for the consideration of a bill in the Senate does not apply, and a negative or dissenting opinion of the Senate cannot be overridden in the Chamber of Deputies.

c) The approval of the state budget bill – this legislative procedure is typical in that the annual state budget bill, which may only be submitted by the government, is decided solely by the Chamber of Deputies. After approval in the Chamber of Deputies, the bill is passed directly to the President of the Republic for signature (without discussion in the Senate).



The Discussion of Bills in the Chamber of Deputies

The standard procedure for debating bills on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies is based on the model of three readings. With a few exceptions, the plenary of the Chamber of Deputies thus discusses each bill a total of three times.

The first reading of a bill means the first discussion of the bill in the plenary of the Chamber of Deputies. The discussion is initiated by the sponsor: i.e. the authorised representative of the government (mostly the relevant minister), a representative of a group of deputies, a deputy, a senator (as a representative of the Senate), or an authorised representative of a regional council. He is succeeded by the rapporteur, designated by the Steering Committee at its meeting or by the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. A general debate is then held on the bill, which means that the floor is taken by deputies, giving their views on the bill. The debate has no time limit. At the end of it, the bill may be rejected or returned to the sponsor. If that does not happen, the bill is assigned by a resolution of the Chamber of Deputies to one or more committees of the Chamber of Deputies for further consideration.

The committees of the Chamber of Deputies are obliged to discuss the bill within sixty days. This period may only be extended by the Chamber of Deputies, namely by a maximum of twenty days; it may be prolonged further only with the consent of the sponsor. The period may be shortened by thirty days (a greater reduction may be blocked by two political groups or fifty deputies). It is up to the committee to determine when and how the bill will be debated. For the committee’s consideration of the bill, one of its members is selected as a rapporteur, who prepares a report on the bill. When the bill is discussed at the meeting of the committee, the floor is granted again to a representative of the sponsor – in the case of government bills usually the relevant minister or deputy minister.

Then the rapporteur presents his or her report. This is followed by a debate, first general and then detailed, during which deputies (committee members) table amendments. After the debate, the proposed amendments are voted on. Those that are approved become part of the resolution submitted by the committee to the Chamber of Deputies. In addition, the committee also recommends to the Chamber of Deputies whether the bill should be adopted or rejected, or returned to the sponsor for further elaboration. A minority group of committee members (at least 1/5 of the members) may submit an opposition report, which becomes part of the committee’s resolution and is presented to the Chamber of Deputies in this way.

After the discussion of the bill in the committee, the bill is placed on the agenda of the next meeting of the Chamber of Deputies for the second reading. The adopted resolutions of the committee are delivered to all deputies at least 24 hours before the second reading. At the second reading, the bill is again introduced by the sponsor, after which the floor is given to the committee’s rapporteur. His or her speech is followed by a general debate on the bill, after whose completion the bill may be referred back to the committee for reconsideration, and by a detailed debate, during which individual deputies table amendments. Neither the general nor the detailed debate is time-limited. Under the Rules of Procedure, a deputy’s speaking time in a debate can be limited to 10 minutes, but this restriction has rarely been applied. The total time of the debate cannot be limited in any way. The debate thus continues until the last announced deputy has spoken. After a detailed debate, the Chamber of Deputies may also refer the bill back to the guarantor committee for reconsideration. If there is a motion to reject the bill at second reading, the Chamber of Deputies votes on it at third reading. A summary of all the amendments tabled is then delivered to all deputies. The amendments are discussed by the guarantor committee, which provides a recommendation or non-recommendation view on each amendment and proposes the order in which the Chamber of Deputies should vote on these amendments at third reading.

The third reading of the bill is the decisive and final stage of consideration in the Chamber of Deputies. The third reading may be commenced no sooner than fourteen days after the delivery of the summary of the amendments to the deputies (the Chamber of Deputies may exceptionally reduce this period to seven days). During the debate at third reading, it is only possible to propose corrections to the effective date of the bill, legislative and technical errors, grammatical or written errors, and changes arising from the amendments tabled. It is also possible to make a motion to repeat the second reading. Subsequently, it is proceeded to the final voting – first on a motion to reject the bill if a deputy has moved such a motion and next on the amendments tabled. In the very last vote, the Chamber of Deputies then gives its assent to the bill as a whole, of course in the wording of previously adopted amendments. If such final assent is given, consideration in the Chamber of Deputies ends at this stage and the bill is referred by the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies to the Senate without undue delay.



The Discussion of the Bill in the Senate

Under the ordinary legislative procedure, the Senate has the opportunity to act on a bill referred to it after its approval in the Chamber of Deputies within thirty days of its referral. If the Senate fails to act within that period, the bill is deemed to have been adopted. For this reason, the senators deal with the bill only in a single reading, preceded by a discussion in the Senate committees.

Once the bill has been delivered to the Senate, the Speaker of the Senate immediately forwards it to the Steering Committee of the Senate and also distributes it to all the senators and senatorial political groups. Within three days of the referral, the Steering Committee assigns the bill to a committee or committees and recommends to the Speaker of the Senate that the bill be placed on the agenda of the meeting of the Senate. The Rules of Procedure provide that the bill is usually to be placed on the agenda so that it is debated in the plenary session of the Senate no later than five days before the expiration of the thirtyday period allowed to the Senate for the consideration of the bill. If the bill is assigned to more than one committee, the Steering Committee determines which committee is the guarantor. Nevertheless, like in the case of the Chamber of Deputies, each committee has the opportunity to discuss the bill even if it is not assigned to it, and its resolution is considered in the same way as those of the other committees. The deliberations in a senatorial committee are similar to those in the committees of the Chamber of Deputies. They are concluded with a vote on a recommendation resolution, in which the committee proposes that the Senate not consider the bill at all or that it approve it, reject it or return it to the Chamber of Deputies with amendments. The rapporteur of the guarantor committee prepares a joint report for the deliberations of the Senate, which contains the resolutions of all committees and a summary of all the amendments recommended by all committees.

Subsequently, the bill is debated in the plenary of the Senate. According to the Constitution, the Senate has several options for deciding on further action:

— The Senate approves the bill (in the wording already approved by the Chamber of Deputies).
— The Senate adopts a resolution not to deal with the bill.
— The Senate allows the thirty-day period for the consideration of the bill to expire (the bill is deemed to have been passed after the expiration of thirty days after its referral).
— The Senate rejects the bill.
— The Senate adopts a resolution returning the bill to the Chamber of Deputies with amendments.

At the plenary session of the Senate, the sponsor speaks first, followed by the rapporteur of the committee. Thereafter, a motion may be made that the Senate express its wish not to take up the bill. This motion is put to the vote prior to the debate. If the Senate expresses its wish not to take up the bill, the bill is adopted by Parliament by this resolution, it becomes law, and its consideration by Parliament is terminated. If this does not happen, the further session of the Senate plenary continues with a general debate, which may end with the approval of the bill as referred by the Chamber of Deputies or with the rejection of the bill. If the bill as referred by the Chamber of Deputies is approved, the law is hereby adopted. If the bill is rejected, it is returned to the Chamber of Deputies. If the bill is neither rejected nor approved, a detailed debate is begun with the submission of amendments. After the completion of the detailed debate, the individual amendments are voted on. If at least one of them has been adopted, the Senate votes on whether to return the Bill to the Chamber of Deputies with the amendments that it has adopted.



The Discussion of the Bill in the Chamber of Deputies after the Senate Returns the Bill

If the bill is rejected in the Senate or returned with amendments, the Speaker of the Senate sends this resolution to the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. In the case of a resolution of the Senate rejecting a bill, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies does not send it to the deputies but directly brings the bill to the Chamber of Deputies to a vote again. The Chamber of Deputies is required to vote again on the rejected bill, but no sooner than ten days after the receipt of the resolution. If the Chamber of Deputies approves the bill by an absolute majority (i.e. 101), the Senate veto is overridden and the bill is considered adopted. If the Senate returns the bill with amendments, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies sends the relevant Senate resolution to all deputies. Ten days after the receipt of the Senate resolution, this bill can first be voted on. During the consideration of returned and rejected bills, the Constitution does not allow for any further amendments to be proposed, but debate is possible. A bill is voted on in two stages – first in the wording passed by the Senate, i.e. amended. The bill is adopted if it is approved by a simple majority of the Chamber of Deputies (a majority of the deputies currently present). If that does not happen, the bill is voted on in the wording originally approved by the Chamber of Deputies. This bill must then be adopted by an absolute majority (a majority of all the deputies, i.e. 101) – again, this is the so-called override of a different stance of the Senate. If neither resolution is passed, the legislative process ends unsuccessfully and the bill is deemed not to have been passed.

The final stage of the legislative process is the signing of the adopted law by the President of the Republic. The President of the Republic may return an enacted law, with the exception of constitutional acts, together with the grounds for the return, within fifteen days of the day when the law was referred to him. The return of a law is an exclusive decision made by the President without the countersignature of the Prime Minister or a member of the government authorised by him. If a law is returned by the President of the Republic in time, the President’s reasons are distributed to the deputies. Subsequently, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies submits the returned law to the Chamber of Deputies for a vote at its next meeting, but no sooner than ten days after its receipt from the President. No amendments may be proposed by the President or by the deputies. If the Chamber of Deputies passes the returned law by an absolute majority (101), the law is promulgated. In this case, the President’s veto is deemed suspensive. If an absolute majority is not achieved, the law is deemed not to have been adopted.



The Constitutional Process and the Adoption of Laws under Article 40 of the Constitution

The process for the adoption of amendments to the Constitution or other constitutional laws is regulated more rigidly than the ordinary legislative process. Unlike with a number of European states, which use several methods of constitutional procedure, the Constitution of the Czech Republic provides for a single procedure for the adoption of all types of constitutional laws. This procedure is regulated in Article 39(4), according to which the adoption of a constitutional law … requires the consent of a three- -fifth majority of all the deputies and a three-fifth majority of the senators present. Otherwise, the provisions laid down for the adoption of ordinary laws are applied to constitutional laws as well.

The provisions of the Constitution dealing with the override of the Senate by the Chamber of Deputies do not apply to constitutional laws, because these laws must be passed in the same wording by both chambers of Parliament. At no stage of the Senate’s consideration is it possible to make a motion that the Senate express its intention not to deal with a bill. Therefore, the Senate must discuss these bills in any case. If the Senate approves the draft constitutional law as approved by the Chamber of Deputies, the law is adopted. If the Senate rejects the constitutional bill, the bill is rejected in its entirety and its consideration ends at that point. If such a bill is returned to the Chamber of Deputies with amendments, the bill is returned to the Chamber of Deputies, because there is still the possibility of a consensual resolution between the two chambers if the Chamber of Deputies adopts the returned bill as amended by the Senate.

In addition to constitutional laws, the express approval of both chambers is also required in the case of the so-called ‘laws under Article 40 of the Constitution’. These are laws whose adoption under Article 40 of the Constitution requires the approval of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. They include the Acts on Elections, the Act on the Principles of Mutual Collaboration and Communication between the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate and of the Collaboration and Communication between both Chambers of the Parliament and Third Parties, and the Act on the Rules of Procedure of the Senate. These laws are approved in the same way as constitutional laws, but by simple majorities. The reason for the special procedure in the case of the Act on Elections is the requirement that the Chamber of Deputies itself cannot approve an amendment to the Act on Elections, and with the other two laws, it is the need for the Senate to have sufficient powers to approve the principles of conduct of Parliament as a whole and of the Senate itself and not to be overridden in this case.



Special and Abbreviated Discussions

Besides the basic procedure for the discussion of bills, the Rules of Procedure of the Chamber of Deputies provide for several special procedures for the following situations:
— the procedure for the adoption of a law already at first reading,
— the consideration of a bill if the government has attached a motion of confidence to it,
— the legislative process in a state of legislative emergency,
— the legislative process for the implementation of a resolution of the UN Security Council on actions ensuring international peace and security,
— the legislative process regulated by the Constitutional Law on the Security of the Czech Republic.



The Share of the Constitutional Court in the Legislative Activities

The Constitutional Court as the guarantor of the constitutionality of the Czech Republic has several powers that variously influence the legislative powers of the Parliament. The most important in this respect is the power to repeal laws or their individual provisions if they are contrary to the Constitution or any other part of the constitutional order. A motion to repeal a law for being contrary to the constitutional order may be brought by:

  • the President of the Republic
  • a group of at least 41 deputies
  • a group of at least 17 senators
  • the Senate of the Constitutional Court in the context of deciding on a constitutional complaint
  • the Government in the case of the implementation of a decision of an international court
  • the person who has lodged a constitutional complaint
  • a general court in connection with its adjudicating activities

The Constitutional Court either decides to repeal the contested law or part of it, or rejects the motion for its repeal. The date of repeal is determined in the ruling, but it is not possible to repeal laws retroactively. Therefore, the Constitutional Court either determines that the law is repealed when the decision takes effect or determines a later date when the law becomes invalid. The purpose of the possible interim is to allow the Parliament to adopt a new norm to replace the amended material that will be annulled by the Constitutional Court.

Law repeal proceedings directly interfere with the legislative activities of the Parliament. However, it cannot be said that the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court overrides the legislative activity of the exclusive legislator – the Parliament. The Constitutional Court is bound by the Constitution and the constitutional laws enacted by the constituent assembly, i.e. the Parliament. The function of the Constitutional Court is not to negate legislative activity but to protect the Constitution from being violated. For this reason, its activity with respect to the legislator is severely limited and the Constitutional Court, in its established judicature, grants Parliament a relatively broad autonomy.