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The Purpose of Legislative Committees

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  • 0:01 Defining Legislative…
  • 1:45 Standing Committees
  • 2:28 Select Committees
  • 3:02 Joint Committees
  • 3:37 House Rules Committee
  • 3:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
The following lesson will discuss the purpose that small groups, or committees, have in passing laws in a legislature. A short quiz will follow the lesson to check for your understanding.

Defining Legislative Committees

If you've ever found yourself as a member of a team sport, you quickly realize the team as a whole has a central goal in mind that they're all working towards. However, each person on the team may play a different role in getting the entire team to that goal. In one of my favorite sports, football, the quarterback position throws the ball, while the receiver catches the ball, and the defense prevents the other team from scoring. The entire team, however, is working towards winning the game.

The same can be said of legislatures in government. Each member of a legislature, or law-making body of a government, has as their main purpose to make and pass laws. Each person in that legislature, however, may play a different role in furthering that purpose. Oftentimes, people who serve in a government's legislature serve on small teams or groups called committees.

Committees are subdivisions within a legislature meant to provide a division of labor. Since thousands of bills are introduced in every session of our own U.S. Congress, no single member can possibly be adequately informed on all issues that arise. Thus, there needs to be subgroups to divide the amount of labor required to address all issues that arise.

Committees are even sometimes called 'little legislatures' because they often have the final say in passing pieces of legislation. Committee actions can be overturned when a bill goes to vote among the entire legislature, but this rarely happens. Legislators almost always defer to the recommendations and expertise of a committee. However, each type of committee is not the same, and in this lesson, we will further discuss what types of committees a legislature might have, as well as explain what role they have in making and passing laws.

Standing Committees

Just as the quarterback is arguably the most important position on a football team, the most important committee in a legislature is by far the standing committees. Standing committees are permanent committees in a legislature that consider bills within certain subject areas. Examples of areas for which there might be standing committees include bills that deal with the national budget, education, agriculture, or finance.

Some areas are often considered more important than others and so being able to serve on those committees often brings with it more power and influence within the legislature. For instance, committees that control spending are especially sought after because members can use these positions to benefit their constituents that voted them into office.

Select Committees

While some committees are permanent, others are more temporary. Whereas quarterbacks rarely change teams, the same is not true of other players on the team. These types of temporary players are similar to legislative committees called select committees in that they are temporary committees that are established for a limited time period and for a special purpose. An example might be a committee that is formed to discuss child nutrition and rising obesity rates. Select committees do most of their work through investigation and making recommendations, whereas standing committees do most of their work through editing and debating the merits of bills.

Joint Committees

If we think back to our football analogy, for a football team to be effective, there must be a good working relationship among all positions on the field. For instance, a quarterback who throws the ball must know where the wide receiver is going so that he can throw the ball in such a way that the receiver can catch it.

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