The Legislative Branch of the Democratic Republic of Italy

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  • 0:01 A Bicameral Parliament
  • 1:08 The Chamber of Deputies
  • 2:48 The Senate
  • 4:32 Parliament's Functions
  • 5:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will explore Italy's legislative branch, especially the structure, election, and functions of its two Houses, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

A Bicameral Parliament

Squeak! Squeak! Have you ever wished that you could be a little mouse in the corner? Well, that's exactly what I am! My name is Giovanni, the parliamentary mouse, and I make my home between the Palazzo Montecitorio and the Palazzo Madama, the two seats of Italy's Parliament. I know all about what happens in the Parliament. In fact, sometimes I know more than the members themselves.

Would you like to go on a little tour and learn something about the Parliament? Okay, follow me! Just watch out for the parliamentary cat!

Italy's legislative branch consists of a two-house, or bicameral, Parliament. The two Houses, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, perform the very same functions and are equal in power, but they do differ a bit in their structures and modes of election. Together, they form the center of the Italian government, and they are very powerful and perform many important tasks. Before we get into their specific jobs, let's visit each House.

The Chamber of Deputies

Here we are in the meeting place of the Chamber of Deputies, the Palazzo Montecitorio. Let's sniff around a bit and see what we can discover.

The Chamber of Deputies is sometimes called the Parliament's lower house. It contains 630 deputies, who are elected by Italian citizens age 18 and over in 26 voter districts. Italy uses a voting system called proportional representation, in which voters actually vote for a party rather than an individual candidate. The party or coalition, two or more parties working together, with the most votes takes 55% of the Chamber's seats. The rest of the seats are divided among the other parties or coalitions based on the proportion of votes they have received in the election. If no party or coalition receives at least 37% of the votes, a run-off election is held to determine a majority winner.

Individual deputies are chosen by their parties or coalitions from ordered lists. Deputies, who must be 25 years of age or older, serve 5-year terms of office, but sometimes they don't quite make it to 5 years if the President of the Republic dissolves Parliament because it fails to create a stable government.

The Chamber of Deputies is led by a President and a Bureau. The President keeps the Chamber functioning smoothly by overseeing its administration, moderating debates and votes, maintaining order, and reminding the deputies of the rules. The members of the Bureau help the President with administrative duties, set the Chamber's budget, address legal questions, and sanction deputies who break the rules.

The Senate

Are you a little overwhelmed? No? Good! Oh dear! I think I hear the parliamentary cat lurking just around the corner, so it's time to scurry away to our next stop, the Palazzo Madama, the home of Italy's Senate. There aren't too many new things to learn about the Senate because its election and structure are much like those of the Chamber.

The Senate, often called the upper house of Parliament, contains 315 elected senators, who must be at least 40 years old and who serve 5-year terms, unless of course, the President of the Republic dissolves Parliament. A few other senators are appointed for life by the President of the Republic. They are usually artists, writers, scientists, or others who have contributed in meaningful ways to Italy's culture and society.

Senate elections are quite similar to Chamber elections except that voters must be at least 25 years old, and they vote in 20 regions. The system of proportional representation applies here, too, with only a few minor differences. The party or coalition with the most votes in each region takes 55% of the region's Senate seats. The rest of the region's seats are divided among the other parties or coalitions based on the proportion of votes they have received. Because proportion occurs on a regional level, there may not be a clear majority party or coalition in the Senate.

Like the Chamber, the Senate is led by a President and a Bureau who perform basically the same roles as their Chamber counterparts and keep the Senate operating smoothly, efficiently, and according to the rules.

Parliament's Functions

Do you smell that cat around anywhere? No? Okay. Then let's talk about what the Parliament does. Both Houses have the same functions.

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