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
- 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.