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Legislative Branch

The legislative branch of U.S. government is comprised of elected representatives who set public policy by enacting statutes.

 

Legislative Branch

  • The legislative branch is comprised of elected representatives who consider proposed policies; if a majority of the representatives support the proposed policy, the group enacts a statutory law.
    • The legislative branch debates and establishes public policy.
    • This web site does not focus on policy issues; that is, "what should be the law." Instead, these materials focus on legal issues; that is, "what is the current law."
  • Statutes generally describe a program or direction the legislature wants the government to pursue. Restated, the legislative branch of government directs public policy by enacting statutes.
    • North Dakota Constitution (Article IV, section 13) states "The legislative assembly shall enact all laws necessary to carry into effect the provisions of this constitution."
    • However, it is generally the responsibility of the executive branch of government to implement (execute) the program.
        • N.D.C.C. §36-01-08 State board of animal health ... "shall protect the health of the domestic animals and nontraditional livestock of this state, shall determine and employ the most efficient and practical means for the prevention, suppression, control, and eradication of dangerous, contagious, and infectious diseases among the domestic animals and nontraditional livestock of this state, and shall prevent the escape and release of an animal injurious to or competitive with agriculture, horticulture, forestry, wild animals, and other natural resource interests. For the purpose of preventing the escape and release of an animal injurious to or competitive with agriculture, horticulture, forestry, wild animals, and other natural resource interests, the board may, by rule, quarantine any such animal, cause any such animal to be killed, regulate or prohibit the arrival in or departure from this state of any such animal, and at the cost of the owner thereof, the board may detain any animal found to be in violation of any rule or prohibition..."
      • Another example of an executive agency implementing a statute -- North Dakota Department of Health
        • N.D.C.C. 23-09-11. Inspection-Reports.  Every ... food establishment ... must be inspected at least once every two years by the department.
        • "Food establishment" means any fixed restaurant, limited restaurant, coffee shop, cafeteria, short-order cafe, luncheonette, grill, tearoom, sandwich shop, soda fountain,tavern, bar, catering kitchen, delicatessen, bakery, grocery store, meat market, food processing plant, school, child care, or similar place in which food or drink is prepared for sale or service to the public on the premises or elsewhere with or without charge.
        • "Department" means the state department of health.
      • A South Dakota example of a state statutory food law:  "The secretary of health shall be responsible for carrying out the provisions of this chapter and all other statutes relating to the safety and sanitation of lodging establishments, campgrounds, food service establishments, temporary food service establishments, and mobile food service establishments" (S.D.C.L. 34-18-2).
        • This statute, enacted by the South Dakota legislature, directs an agency of the executive branch of the state government to implement the statute.
      • Additional South Dakota examples of state statutory food laws; note that each statute directs an agency of the executive branch to implement the law:
        • S.D.C.L. 39-1-1.   "The Department of Agriculture ... shall be in general charge of the administration and enforcement of [laws pertaining to dairy, eggs and commercial feeds] ... It shall have and may exercise all of its general powers and duties of visitation, inspection, examination, access to property and places therefor, prosecution, rule and regulation making, requiring cooperation and aid of other agencies of government, for the purpose of administering and enforcing the provisions of this title..."
        • S.D.C.L. 39-1-1.1.   "The Division of Commercial Inspection and Licensing of the Department of Public Safety shall [enforce the laws pertaining to adulterated and misbranded foods, and beverages] ..."
        • S.D.C.L. 39-5-7.   "The secretary of the Animal Industry Board is hereby authorized to enforce the provisions of [the meat and meat product laws] through such meat inspectors and other employees of the Animal Industry Board of this state..."
  • Suggestions or ideas for proposed policies (statutes) come from many sources, including citizens, government agencies, and the president (or governor). These ideas are conveyed to members of the legislative branch, that is, our elected representatives.
  • Sometimes the proposal addresses novel policy issues; other times, the proposal revisits issues that have been previously addressed by a court or the legislature. The reason to revisit an issue is because the current legislature wants to reinforce, clarify, or change the current law.
    • This statement by the North Dakota Supreme Court clearly indicates the respective responsibilities of the legislative and judicial branches of government.

     

  • Statutes cannot conflict with the Constitution
    • "states may not enact laws that discriminate against or unduly burden interstate commerce... Because we conclude that Amendment E was motivated by a discriminatory purpose, we must strike it down as unconstitutional ..." S.D. Farm Bureau v. Hazeltine (2003) striking down Amendment E (which limited corporate farming) of the South Dakota Constitution as violating the U.S. Constitution.
    • "The ordinance discriminates against interstate commerce [clause of the U.S. Constitution], and thus is invalid." C & A Carbone, Inc. v. Town of Clarkstown, New York

 

  • In some states, such as North Dakota, voters have reserved the right to directly vote on statutes; see North Dakota Constitution, Article III, Section 1:
    • "the people reserve the power to propose and enact laws by the initiative, ... [and] to approve or reject legislative Acts, or parts thereof, by the referendum"
    • Initiatives and referendums involve citizens circulating petitions for voters to sign indicating that they want the measure placed on the ballot for the next election, and thereby allowing citizens to vote/decide whether to adopt a new statute (initiative) or repeal an existing statute (referendum).

 

 

Closing Thoughts

  • The legislative branch of government sets forth public policy by enacting statutes.
  • The statutes must not conflict with the authorities and limitations set forth by the people in the Constitution.

 

 

Email David.Saxowsky@ndsu.edu

This material is intended for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for competent legal counsel. Seek appropriate professional advice for answers to your specific questions.

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