The Parliament of The Bahamas is bicameral (Consisting of two chambers) with an appointed Senate and an elected House of Assembly. Her Majesty the Queen, represented by the Governor General, is also part of The Bahamas Parliament.
The First meeting of Parliament (General Assembly) took place on 29th September 1729, and was made up of twenty-four members representing the Islands of New Providence, Eleuthera and Harbour Island.
Functions of Parliament
The Parliament is mandated by Article 52(l) of the Constitution to make laws for the peace, order and good government of The Bahamas. The Constitution authorizes Parliament to make laws by passing Bills. The Constitution also empowers Parliament to:
- Determine the privileges, immunities and powers of the Senate and House of Assembly.
- Alter or amend any of the provisions of the constitution.
- Regulate its own procedures by making rules of procedure.
- Prescribe the officers who are to constitute the personal staff of the Governor-General.
- Prescribe the number of Justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
- Approve the Government's budget.
In addition to its constitutional functions, Parliament maintains oversight of Government’s financial matters through the Public Accounts Committee.
Parliament is the forum where public policy and matters of national importance are debated.
Prorogation and Dissolution of Parliament
The life or a term of Parliament is usually five years, but may be terminated sooner by the Governor-General acting with the advice of the Prime Minister. A Parliamentary term is ended by Dissolution. When Parliament is dissolved all matters before Parliament are terminated and all Parliamentarians will vacate their seats.
A Parliamentary term is divided into sessions. A session of Parliament is ended by Prorogation. A session of Parliament is that period that Parliament meets between a dissolution and a prorogation, or between prorogation and prorogation. The Governor-General opens all Sessions of Parliament with a Speech from the Throne.
The Legislative Process
Under the provision of Article 52 (1) of the Constitution, Parliament is mandated to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of The Bahamas. During each session, Parliament passes laws in order to enhance the quality of life for Bahamians. Parliament does not enact laws in a vacuum, but rather it passes laws to fulfill needs in the society.
The demands of The Bahamas society are constantly changing and Parliament through the legislative process must remain dynamic and responsive to those demands. Parliament does not make very many entirely new laws. Most of the laws passed by Parliament are for the modification or amendment of existing laws.
Article 52(2) of the Constitution empowers Parliament to make laws by the passing of Bills. A Bill is a draft proposal introduced into parliament that is intended to become law. A Minister of the Government usually introduces a Bill into Parliament but any Parliamentarian may introduce a Bill into Parliament. A Bill must be passed by the House of Assembly and Senate and must be assented to by the Governor-General before it becomes law.
Type of Bills
|There are several types of Bills: Public Bills, Private Bills, Private Money Bills and Members Bills|
Public Bills are intended to implement public policy as enunciated by the Government. Public Bills effect the entire Bahamian population. A good example of a Public Bill would be the amendment to the Broadcasting Act. With the passage of this legislation, the Government was able to implement its policy of dismantling the monopoly held by ZNS on broadcasting in The Bahamas.
Private Bills unlike Public Bills confer rights, privileges or obligations on a selected group in the society. These are usually Bills which come about as a result of pressure groups impacting on their representatives to such an extent as to effect the implementation of a new law or the amendment of an established law. A good example of a Private Bill is the Methodist Bill, which sought to establish the Methodist Church of The Bahamas. This Bill came about as the result of a large majority of the Methodist congregation in The Bahamas signing a petition and in other ways expressing their wish to be freed from their governing body in Antigua and requesting Parliament’s assistance in establishing a church in The Bahamas by way of statue law. With the passage of the Bill, the Methodist Church of The Bahamas was established and became a Corporation sole or a legal person. Effectively, the Bill conferred rights only on Methodists.
|PRIVATE MEMBER BILLS
A Private Member’s Bill comes about as a result of a personal crusade by a Member of Parliament who is not a Minister. A Member of Parliament may see the need for a law to either regulate, prevent or implement some function, for example to ban the import of Pit Bulls, and in his private capacity, he introduces a Bill to Parliament to accomplish this objective.
Sections of Bills
Each Bill consists of five main parts: the long title, the short title, the interpretation clause, the main body of the Bill and the objects and reasons.
The long title is a description of the nature of the Bill and covers the intent of the Bill. The Short title follows the long title and labels the Bill for identification purposes. The short title sometimes also, contains the commencement clause, which states when the Bill will have legal force.
The short title in turn is followed by the interpretation clause, which defines certain words and phrases used in the Bill.
The body of the Bill consists of all of the other clauses, which contain the provisions of the Bill, that is, they contain all of the measures that the Bill is enacting.
The objects and reasons is the final part of a Bill and it seeks to explain in layman’s terms the purpose of the Bill and the reason why it is necessary.
Procedure for Passing Bills
Preparament and Enactment of Legislation
Cabinet Manual of Procedures
In Parliament, Bills must go through four stages and a vote is taken after each stage. The first step in Parliament is the introduction and first reading of a Bill. At the first reading of a Bill, the long title is read and the Presiding Officer without debate places the motion. When a Bill is read the first time, the Speaker orders the Bill to be printed and the Bill is numbered and subsequently, circulated to the Members of Parliament. The Bill then becomes available to the Public.
The next stage is the second reading of a Bill. At this stage, the principle of the Bill is debated. All members of Parliament may speak on the second reading of a Bill so that all points of view could be given consideration.
The next stage after the second reading is the committal stage. The entire House sits as a Committee of the Whole House and the Speaker leaves the Chair and the Deputy Speaker presides over the Committee as Chairperson. During this Committee stage, the Bill is examined clause by clause and it is at this stage that any ambiguities are clarified and amendments are proposed and agreed. After the Bill has been agreed in Committee, the Chairperson reports to the Speaker what transpired during the deliberation of the Committee and of any amendments, which may have been made.
The Speaker then invites a motion for a third reading and passing of the Bill, the final stage of the process. This motion is again made usually without debate. If the Bill is supported by a majority of Members, the Speaker orders the Bill passed and the Chief Clerk to take the Bill to the Senate for that Chamber’s consent.
How The Houses Communicate
The House and the Senate communicate with each other through a system of Messages. The Clerk of the House delivers and reads the Message, which informs the Senate that the House has passed the Bill, and desires the consent of the Senate to the Bill.
In the Senate, after the Bill is introduced, it follows the same procedure as it did in the House of Assembly. If the majority of Senators present at the time are in favour the Bill is passed.
The Bill is then sent to the Governor-General for assent after which the Bill is referred to as an Act. The Act is finally published in the Gazette.
Restrictions on the Power of the Senate
The Senate is authorized by the Constitution to pass Bills in the same manner as passed by the House or it can make such amendments to the Bill should it consider it necessary. Those amendments will then have to be approved by the House of Assembly. The Senate may even reject a Bill outrightly that had been passed by the House. However, if the House passes the Bill in two successive sessions, and the Senate rejects the Bill each time, the House of Assembly may send the Bill directly to the Governor-General without the Senate having consented to the Bill.
If the House passes a Money Bill and sends that Bill to the Senate for its consent, and if the Senate does not give its consent within a month after receiving the Bill, the money bill is sent to the Governor-General for assent even though the Senate had not consented to it.