About Resolutions

Learn about resolutions.  What they are, how they are passed.

The practice of submitting and voting on resolutions is a typical part of the legislative business. Resolutions are usually for two purposes. First, resolutions express consensus on matters of public policy: lawmakers routinely deliver criticism or support on a broad range of social issues, legal rights, court opinions, and even decisions. Second, resolutions are passed for internal, administrative purposes. Resolutions are not laws;they differ fundamentally in their purpose. However, under certain circumstances resolutions can have the effect of law.

In all legislative bodies, the process leading to a resolution begins with a lawmaker making a formal proposal called a motion. The rules of the legislative body determine how much support must be given to the motion before it can be put to a general vote. The rules also specify what number of votes the resolution must attract to be passed. If successful it becomes the official position of the legislative body.

Typically resolutions are used when passage of a law is unnecessary or unfeasible. In many cases relevant laws already exist. The resolution merely asserts an opinion that lawmakers want to emphasize. Political frustration sometimes leads lawmakers to declare their opposition to laws that they cannot change. Additionally, resolutions are common in times of emergency.

When resolutions are mere expressions of opinion, they differ fundamentally from laws. In essence, laws are intended to permanently direct and control matters applying to persons or issues in general; moreover, they are enforceable. By contrast, resolutions expressing the views of lawmakers are limited to a specific issue or event. They are neither intended to be permanent nor to be enforceable. Nor do they carry the weight of court opinions. In a certain respect, they resemble the opinions expressed by a newspaper on its editorial page, but they are nonetheless indicative of the ideas and values of elected representatives and, as such, commonly mirror the outlook of voters.

In addition to delivering statements for public consumption, resolutions also play an important role in the administration of legislatures. Lawmakers pass resolutions to control internal rules on matters such as voting and conduct. Typically legislatures also use them to conduct housekeeping: resolutions can thank a member for service to the legislature or criticize him or her for disservice. The latter form of resolution is known as censure, a rarely used formal process by which the legislature as a whole votes on whether to denounce a member for misdeeds.

Browse Resolutions by Session

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