How the Knesset Passes Laws: A Guide for the Perplexed Like Me
I always had a very rudimentary understanding of how bills get passed into law in this country but aspects of the process had me confused, and for some reason, I was unable to find anyone who could sort things out for me . . . until I made contact with Jeremy Saltan. Jeremy was kind enough to spend the time ensuring that I understand enough to make sense of our legislative process and I want to pass that understanding on to you. I always knew there are three readings of proposals in the Knesset Plenum, but I did not know that the Third Reading is actually the seventh time bills are voted on in fact.
First of all, there are three ways a bill (הצעת חוק) gets initiated – the government (cabinet) can propose laws, a Knesset committee can propose laws related to the Knesset, the State Comptroller, and Basic Laws, and individual MKs can propose new laws and amendments to existing law. The latter, called Private Member Bills, are what I will describe here. (Drafting the bills and preparing them for the first reading is another involved process not covered in this piece.)
It is important to understand that it is now very rare for totally new laws to be tabled. Most of the legislative activity today involves amending those already on the books either by changing some of the wording or by adding new sections that either expand or limit the scope of the law, all according to contemporary understanding and needs that may differ from those in play when the bill was first written into Law. Regardless of whether the bill proposes a new law or an amendment to existing law, the mechanism for handling it in the Knesset is the same.
As mentioned above, Private Member Bills are drawn up by individual MKs or groups of MKs. The first draft is presented to a ministerial committee that either approves or rejects it (this is the first time it is read and voted on) and if approved, it moves on to the Preliminary Reading (קריאה טרומית) in the Knesset plenum (second time it is voted on but the first time the MKs vote on it) .If the bill is approved, it will be discussed in the committee that is relevant to the content of the bill; for example, a bill related to family issues will likely be discussed in the Social Welfare Committee. If there is disagreement regarding the appropriate committee in which to discuss the bill, the House Committee will make that call.
After the committee has had a chance to work on the bill, modifying it according to issues raised in the committee sessions, committee members alone will vote on it (this constitutes the third time the bill is voted on). Passed? Then the bill is presented again to the Knesset Plenum. While this vote is formally called the First Reading (קריאה ראשונה), it is the second vote in the Knesset Plenum and the fourth time the proposal is, in fact, voted on.
If the Knesset passes the bill at the First Reading, it is returned to the committee for further refinements. Objections to the bill are filed with the committee and it is put to a fifth vote in the committee alone.
When the Knesset discusses the proposal for the Second Reading (קריאה שניה), those who object to it can raise their objections from the Knesset podium. Each objection is voted on by the MKs in attendance at that time. If the objections have been dealt with, by either rejecting them or accepting them and making the appropriate changes in the bill, and the bill passes the Second Reading, the Third Reading (קריאה שלישית) will generally take place that same day. The Third Reading is the final reading (and the seventh time the proposal will have been voted on by the two bodies involved in the process). If the MKs pass the proposal into law, it will be published in the official records, called Reshumot (רשומות). Only at that time does the bill officially become Law.
It is important to note that not all bills reach the Third and final Reading during the current Knesset term. Only bills that have passed the First Reading before a given term ends will have the right to be re-tabled (דין רציפות) and to continue the legislative process from that point on as soon as the next Knesset has been sworn in. If a bill did not pass the First Reading, it will have to begin the process from the very beginning all over again.
You may find it interesting to follow legislative activity in the Knesset and one man who has been doing that to the extent that he is now a well-known Knesset analyst is Jeremy Saltan. You can follow him on twitter [@TheJeremyMan], or to check out his websites: Knesset Jeremy and Jeremy Saltan. I will also be commenting on proposals and MKs here.
If you can read Hebrew, you may be interested in consulting OKnesset, a website run by volunteers who try to keep up with the stages of progress of the numerous bills before the Knesset each term.