What is a Senate Committee?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A senate committee is a small group of lawmakers which focuses on specific issues. Many senates around the world have what are known as “standing” committees, meaning that these senate committees are always in existence, although the membership may change. In other cases, a committee may be specially appointed to deal with a particular issue. Senate committees help legislatures run more smoothly, and they ensure that the myriad of issues which face nations around the world are dealt with in a timely fashion.

Senate Committees are an important part of the lawmaking process.
Senate Committees are an important part of the lawmaking process.

The precise rules for senate committees vary depending on the nation, and they are generally spelled out in a senate charter. Many senates have a committee on rules which publishes information about serving in the senate and makes rulings about behavior in the senate; the committee on rules is often a good place to start if you are interested about the procedures in your senate, including those surrounding committee appointments.

As a general rule, the senate collectively decides on who will be appointed to various committees. Senators are welcome to serve on multiple committees, and many do so, and typically a senator has an interest in the topic covered by a committee. In some regions, people also expect senators to have experience in an issue if they serve on the senate committee; for examples, veterans of the armed forces may be given preference in serving on an armed forces committee.

In the United States, some examples of issues covered by standing committees include agriculture, education, forestry, military issues, health care, commerce, security, energy, appropriations, pensions, labor, foreign relations, housing, urban affairs, and the judiciary. There are also several select committees on ethics, intelligence, and aging. Within a senate committee, it is common to see a number of subcommittees.

When a bill is introduced to the senate, it is typically sent to the committee which has jurisdiction. For example, a bill about clean energy would go to the senate committee on energy and the environment. Many bills are said to “die in committee,” meaning that the committee decides that the bill has no merit, and they do not refer it to the senate for a vote. If the senate committee feels that the bill may be meritorious, it may hold hearings to gather information about the topic, and it may commission reports and studies to find out more before deciding if the bill should be put to a vote on the main senate floor.

If you are concerned about a particular political issue, it can sometimes help to contact a representative on the senate committee which pertains to the issue. Some activists actually make a habit of blanketing senate committees with phone calls and information when a controversial bill is under discussion, to remind the committee members of concerns which might be held by constituents.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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