The legislative process, that is all the work carried out in parliament and outside it aimed at passing a bill, is described in detail in the Constitution of the Republic of Poland and in the Standing Orders of the Sejm. The legislative process includes the following stages:
For the legislative process to get started, it is necessary to introduce a bill to the Sejm. Only qualified subjects, who enjoy the right of legislative initiative can make it up:
- the deputies to the Sejm (deputies’ bills may be introduced by a Sejm committee or a group of at least 15 deputies);
- the Senate (a resolution of the entire Chamber is necessary);
- the President of the Republic;
- the Council of Ministers, i.e. the government.
The Constitution also provides for an opportunity for citizens to introduce a bill by means of the so-called mechanism of popular initiative; yet such a bill requires the signatures of a group of 100 000 citizens having the right to vote in elections to the Sejm.
There are, however, bills that only some of the above-mentioned subjects can submit, e.g. a draft Budget can only be introduced by the Council of Ministers. Urgent bills, which may be introduced in the Sejm only by the government, are of particular importance. Bills designated as urgent are given priority over other bills and are subject to a fast-track parliamentary passage. The difference is that the Senate has only 14 days and the President of the Republic only 7 days to consider such a bill. This enables the government to perform the tasks most important for the State. However, some matters cannot be regulated in this way, e.g. electoral law.
A bill may concern enacting a new law regarding matters not regulated yet, or altering already existing one by its amendment.
Bills are to be submitted, in writing, to the Marshal of the Sejm (the phrase “to submit a bill to the Marshal’s mace”, which means to submit it to the Marshal’s authority, is commonly used in parliamentary practice) who orders their printing and delivery to the deputies. Due to a considerable number of bills, which often concern the same problem, e.g. a change in the Penal Code, every bill is given its individual Sejm print number to simplify the work in the Sejm.
The sponsor, submitting a bill, appoints an authorized person to represent them in work relating to it. Every bill has to include an explanatory statement which explains, e.g. the need for and purpose of passing the bill, presents the expected social, economic, financial and legal consequences, points out the sources of finance, or includes the statement on compatibility of the bill with the EU law. The Marshal of the Sejm may return a bill to its sponsor if an attached explanatory statement does not fulfil the legal requirements.
If there is a doubt about whether the bill is consistent with the law, including the law of the European Union or the elementary principles of legislative technique, the Marshal of the Sejm may refer that bill to the Legislative Committee for its opinion, after consulting the Presidium of the Sejm. If the Committee with the majority of 3/5 of the votes in the presence of at least half of the Committee members finds the bill inadmissible, the Marshal is not required to initiate the proceedings in respect of that bill.
Bills are considered in three readings. The term “reading” comes from the fact that in the past bills were read in their entirety in the assembly room.
It takes place at a plenary sitting of the Sejm or at a sitting of a committee having jurisdiction over the subject matter of the proposed bill. Due to a considerable number of issues on the agenda of the Sejm sittings, it is a rule to hold the first reading at a committee sitting. However, some socially important bills have to be presented at a Sejm sitting. These include amendments to the Constitution, the draft Budget, tax bills, bills concerning the election of the President of the Republic and elections to the Sejm, the Senate and to local self-government bodies, bills regulating the structure and jurisdiction of public authorities and also draft law codes. Moreover, the Marshal of the Sejm may refer other bills for a first reading at a Sejm sitting, if justified by important reasons.
The first reading of a bill includes justification of the bill by its sponsor, a debate on the general principles of the bill, questions of the deputies and response of the sponsor. If the first reading takes place at a Sejm sitting, it is finished with a resolution on referring the bill to the committee relevant for its subject matter, or several committees, if the subject matter of the bill falls within the remit of these committees. However, a motion to reject the bill as a whole may be made at this stage.
Committees may correct and change the wording of bills while working on their provisions. Committees may also appoint a subcommittee from its members for detailed examination of the bill; moreover, they may consult the invited specialists in a given field, i.e. experts of the committee. Authorized representative of the sponsor of a bill is obliged to participate in the committee and subcommittee sittings.
Having finished its work, the committee agrees upon the common position on the bill and presents it in the form of a report, including a motion for the bill to be passed without amendments, with some amendments or to be rejected. Submitted in writing, motions and proposals for amendment rejected by the committees are also included in the report and become later a subject of debate as minority motions.
A deputy-rapporteur, chosen from the committee members, presents the results of the committee work on the draft in the form of a report.
The second reading always takes place at a Sejm sitting and includes presentation of the committee report on the bill to the Sejm and, subsequently, carrying out a debate during which other motions and amendments may be submitted. The right to introduce amendments during the second reading belongs to the sponsor of the bill, to a group of at least 15 deputies, to a chairperson of a deputies’ club or group and to the Council of Ministers. Amendments may be submitted only by the end of the second reading. This is also the deadline for the sponsor, if they want to withdraw the bill. It is also important for deputies’ bills, as in the case when one or more deputies withdraw their support for the bill and the number of signatures drops below 15, such a bill will be deemed to be withdrawn.
If subsequent amendments and motions are submitted during the second reading, the bill is referred again to the committee which examines it, assesses it and presents an additional report to the Sejm in which it proposes adoption or rejection thereof. If the draft is not re-referred to the committee during the second reading, the third reading may take place immediately.
At a Sejm sitting, the deputy-rapporteur presents an additional report of the committee or, if the bill has not been referred to the committee, the amendments submitted during the second reading. Subsequently, the deputies vote in a certain order on the submitted amendments and motions, either passing or rejecting them. At the beginning the deputies vote on a possible motion rejecting the bill as a whole, then on amendments to particular articles, and at the end on the bill as a whole according to the wording proposed by the committees, including any modifications resulting from adopted amendments.
The Sejm passes bills with simple majority of votes (the number of affirmative votes exceeds the number of negative votes) in the presence of at least half of the statutory number of deputies. In specific cases, the provisions of law provide other proportion of votes necessary for passing a bill.
Subsequently, the Marshal of the Sejm submits the bill to the Senate.
The procedure for examining bills by the Senate is regulated by the Constitution of the Republic of Poland and the Rules and Regulations of the Senate.
Having received a bill passed by the Sejm, the Marshal of the Senate refers it to the relevant Senate committees (one or more) which examine it within 18 days and work out the draft position of the Senate concerning the bill; in the case of urgent bills or those implementing the European Union law – within the deadline specified by the Marshal of the Senate.
Next, a debate and voting take place at a Senate sitting, resulting in the adoption of a resolution by the Senate. The resolution may include a motion to accept the bill without amendments (in this case it is referred by the Marshal of the Sejm to the President of the Republic of Poland for signature), or a motion to reject the whole bill or to introduce amendments into its text (in this case the bill is referred back to the Sejm).
The time limit for the Senate to undertake a decision concerning a bill is 30 days from its submission in the case of regular bills (20 days in the case of the draft Budget and 14 days for urgent bills). If the Senate fails to submit amendments or to reject the bill within these time limits, the bill is considered passed according to the wording adopted by the Sejm.
Sejm considers Senate resolution
If the Senate adopts on time a resolution including amendments to the bill passed by the Sejm or rejecting the bill as a whole, it is referred by the Marshal of the Sejm to the committee which dealt with the bill before. The committee, with the participation of the Senator-Rapporteur, debates over the Senate’s position and presents another report with the proposal to approve the Senate’s amendments entirely, in part, or to reject them.
The Sejm may reject the Senate’s amendments, as well as the motion to reject the bill by an absolute majority of votes (the number of affirmative votes exceeds the number of negative votes and abstentions) in the presence of at least half of the statutory number of deputies. If there is no absolute majority, the final text of the bill will include the Senate’s amendments. In the case of voting on the Senate’s resolution on the rejection of the bill, the lack of majority means that the bill dies and does not become a law.
When the position of the Senate is considered, the Marshal of the Sejm refers the bill to the President of the Republic for signature.
President in the legislative process
The President of the Republic of Poland signs the bill within 21 days following its submission (7 days in the case of urgent bills and draft Budgets) and orders its promulgation in the Journal of Laws (“Dziennik Ustaw”). The promulgation is necessary for the bill to become a law (to come into force) and, afterwards, a specified period of time has to elapse, so-called vacatio legis, i.e. the time necessary for citizens to get to know it and to get prepared for implementing it.
The President has a right to refuse to sign the bill and can refer it back, with reasons given, to the Sejm for its reconsideration (so-called suspending veto), which means that the Sejm (but not the Senate) is to consider it again. There is no possibility of introducing any amendments at this stage.
If the Sejm overrides a President’s veto by a majority of 3/5 votes in the presence of at least half of the statutory number of deputies, the President has no other choice than to sign the bill and order its promulgation. In the case when there is no such a majority, the legislative process is finished and the bill will not come into force.
The President, in the case of any legal doubts concerning the bill passed by the parliament, may make an application to the Constitutional Tribunal concerning the conformity of the bill with the Constitution. Nevertheless, if the President exercises this right, he cannot use the suspending veto.
Having considered the matter, the Tribunal decides whether the bill is constitutional. If the Tribunal states that the bill is consistent with the Constitution, the President is obliged to sign it. If the Tribunal finds the entire bill inconsistent with the Constitution, the President has to refuse to sign it.
It may also happen that the Tribunal decides that only some provisions are inconsistent with the Constitution. If such provisions are not inseparably connected with the bill, the President, after obtaining the opinion of the Marshal of the Sejm, may sign it with the omission of those provisions, or return it to the Sejm for the purpose of removing the non-conformity. In such a case the Sejm and, next, the Senate deals again with the bill to change its provisions so that they were in conformity with the Constitution. Afterwards, the corrected bill is again referred to the President for signature.
The presented scheme of legislative process does not include all the differences concerning the consideration of urgent bills, bills amending the Constitution, bills implementing the European Union law, draft Budget, bills signed by 100 000 citizens or law codes. The purpose of the differences is to ensure passing the bills in a proper time (e.g. draft Budget) or to ensure their elaborateness (e.g. amendments to the law codes).