The Powers & Functions of Legislatures

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  • 0:01 Defining Legislatures
  • 1:11 Unicameral vs. Bicameral
  • 2:12 Other Powers of Legislatures
  • 2:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
The following lesson will describe the common structure of most legislatures, as well as discuss their main powers and functions. A short quiz will follow the lesson to check your understanding.

Defining Legislatures

Imagine if you had the power to think things into existence. I could literally just think of a chocolate cake, and it would appear. How cool would that be? Surprisingly, members of our own Congress can sort of be thought of as a group of superheroes, say the Amazing League of Law Men, who actually have a similar type of power. Although, this power is much less exciting in real life because being able to think things into existence isn't done with just thinking them, but rather happens in our Congress when things are written on pieces of paper.

Instead of calling these people who pass laws superheroes, in reality, we call them legislators, but for this lesson, we'll keep calling them the Amazing League of Law Men just because it's a lot more fun to refer to them that way. Legislators make up a legislature, which is the law-making body of a government. Their main purpose is to make and pass laws. However, while this may be their primary function, they may have other powers as well. Not only does a legislature have other powers, but there may also be multiple groups with similar powers all within the same legislature.

Unicameral vs. Bicameral

In some legislatures, the Amazing League of Law Men may meet all together to make and pass laws, or there may be some legislatures that have an Amazing League of Law Men Team A and an Amazing League of Law Men Team B. When a legislature divides its members into two separate assemblies, chambers, or houses, we call this a bicameral legislature. When a legislature does not divide its members into separate assemblies, chambers or houses, we call this a unicameral legislature.

In our own U.S. Congress, we have a bicameral legislature in which legislators are divided between our Senate and the House of Representatives. The legislature of England is also bicameral with the division among the upper house, or House of Lords, and the lower house, or House of Commons. However, there are also other countries - such as Denmark and Finland, smaller countries, like Luxembourg, as well as many former Communist countries, such as Serbia and Ukraine - that keep unicameral legislatures.

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