Let’s be honest; making sense of laws, legislation and bills all sound daunting. But we still have a responsibility to know what they mean and the level of impact they have on our lives. But don’t worry, we’re here to show you how bills eventually become laws and how you can get involved in the lawmaking process.
What is a Bill?
A Bill is a draft of a law or Act. It’s a proposed law that’s still being debated in parliament and hasn’t been signed off by the president. It’s important to note two things here: firstly, the public can’t propose a bill to be drafted. While we’re free to submit our thoughts on a bill, we’re not responsible for its conception. That duty is reserved for MPs. Secondly, there are four categories of bills, each serving a different function.
Different types of bills
Section 74 bills deal with Constitutional amendments and need to be approved by a two thirds majority while section 75 bills refer to bills that don’t affect the provinces. An example is the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act (which decriminalises consensual adolescent sex) which is in the process of possibly becoming law.
Finally, we have section 76 and 77 bills. The former refers to money bills that affect both provinces and must be debated in both houses of parliament. The latter refers to money bills, which concern the allocation of public money for a particular purpose or impose taxes, levies or duties. An example of this is the Appropriation Bill signed by the President on 13 August 2014 and coming to effect the following day.
How is a Bill is passed into Law?
A committee, minister or assembly member draws up a green paper which is more or less a discussion document. This is followed by a white paper which is a more detailed document. But sometimes the green paper/white paper process doesn’t happen. In this case, a draft Bill is drawn up and published in the Government Gazette for public comment and consultation and then sent to the relevant portfolio committee for debate and amendments if necessary. Once this process is complete, the State Law Advisors will check whether it is constitutional and ready to be put before parliament. It’s not always clear-cut which category a Bill should fall under hence why the Joint Tagging Mechanism is in place to put the Bill in the appropriate category. This process is called “tagging”.
The next step is for both the NA and NCOP to pass the Bill. Finally, when everyone is happy, it is put on the president’s desk for him to sign and it becomes an Act of Parliament and a law of the land.
Current Bills and their progress
There are currently three Bills that are sitting on the President’s desk, one of them the Protection of State Information Bill, while another 24 are still in the process of becoming law. You can track the progress of any Bill on the PMG website.
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VIP Connect acts as a feedback loop between young people and parliament by deciphering the content and making it accessible to a youth audience. Our team of youth journalists will be reporting Live from Parliament every week in partnership with the People’s Assembly. The People’s Assembly connects people and their elected representatives. To stay in touch with your local MP, visit www.pa.org.za, follow them on Twitter @PeoplesAssem_SA or Facebook/PeoplesAssemblySA.