New legislation sponsored by the government, known as government bills, originates in government ministries. New legislation can also originate from bills sponsored by a member of the legislature, known as members bills, or from initiatives by private parties, known as private bills. This discussion is concerned with government bills.
The ministry sponsoring a bill consults with interested parties, studies policy issues, and considers the economic and social impact of the proposed legislation. Sometimes discussion papers are released to promote public consultation. The documents prepared during this initial stage can be important in determining the policy behind any legislation that is eventually introduced.
Following study and consultation, a legislative proposal goes through the following steps before it is presented in the Legislative Assembly.
Legislation is introduced in the legislative assembly as a bill. Each bill must pass three readings in the legislative assembly and receive royal assent before it is passed into law.
The first reading occurs on the day the legislation is introduced. The minister of the sponsoring ministry will briefly introduce the bill in the legislature. There is no debate. Sometimes the bill is sent to committee for study at this stage.
The first reading version of the bill contains explanatory notes about each section of the legislation. These notes do not appear in later versions of the legislation. The first reading version of the bills back to 1992 are available from the Legislative Assembly website.
During second reading, the sponsoring Minister explains the purpose of the bill, and debate takes place on the main principles of the bill. Speeches in the legislature by the Minister responsible for the legislation can be important in determining the intention behind the legislation. The proceedings of the legislature and of legislative committees are recorded in Hansard.
After the bill has passed second reading, it is sent to committee for detailed consideration on a clause by clause basis. This can be a standing legislative committee, or a Committee of the Whole House. Amendments to the bill can be proposed at this stage. If the bill is amended, it is reprinted prior to third reading. You may want to review a transcript or report of the committee’s proceedings to find out why the bill was amended.
The final version of the bill is circulated for third reading. There is usually no debate at this stage. The third reading version of the bill is available on the Legislative Assembly website. The third reading version is also received by libraries in print form. Eventually, the government publishes blue soft cover volumes containing all legislation passed in a session of the legislature. The third reading versions of any legislation passed in that session will be included. One or two years later, the legislation will be published in a hardcover sessional volume that also contains a Table of Public Statutes.
The first and third reading versions of bills are available from the Legislative Assembly website, as are the Hansard debates. Go to the legislative session in which the bill was enacted, and look for it by bill number or by title.
There are various ways to ascertain the status of a bill and to obtain references to the documents arising out of the legislative process.
The most current access to this information is through electronic sources.
- The Legislative Assembly website has Progress of Bills tables containing status information on bills back to 1992, with links to the first and third reading versions of the bills as well as links to Hansard and committee debate.
- Quickscribe provides alerts on the progress of your selected bills and on consequential changes to legislation.
The proper format for citing a bill includes the bill number, the name of the bill, the legislative session, the jurisdiction, and the year.
Bill 16, Police Amendment Act, 1997, 2nd Session, 36th Parliament, British Columbia, 1997.
After the bill passes third reading, it receives royal assent from the Lieutenant Governor, the Queen’s representative. At that time it is assigned a chapter number.
If the bill is silent on how and when it comes into force, then it comes into force immediately on receiving royal assent. If the bill indicates that it is to come into force in some other way, then it does not come into force on royal assent. See section 3 of the Interpretation Act, RSBC 1996, c 238 for more information.
The most common way for a bill to come into force is by order in council. This means that the bill does not come into force until the Lieutenant Governor in Council (in other words, Cabinet) issues an order proclaiming the legislation into force. There are several ways to locate proclamation information for a bill or a particular section of a bill.
- Tables of Legislative Changes for a particular Act indicate whether and when amendments have been proclaimed into force. The tables are published with statutes published on BCLaws. Alternatively, locate the legislation on Quickscribe, which includes in force information, or the Table of Public Statutes in hardcover sessional volumes.
- Orders in Council are available on BCLaws (from 1872).