The first function of Congress is the approval of legislation, and it is understood that the approval of the State Budget is also a primary duty.
The Constitution recognizes legislative initiative, or the right to initiate procedures conducive to the approval of laws, to the Government, Congress, Senate, the Assemblies of Self-governing Communities, and to no less than 500.000 citizens, through accredited signatures.
The initiative is exercised before Congress, and it is the first Chamber to have knowledge of bills and non-governmental proposals. The only exception is the Senate initiative, where non-governmental proposals are also formulated. However, through the decision-making process they must be remitted to Congress where the previously mentioned proper procedure is initiated.
The Government is, in fact, the entity that presents the most initiatives concerning all these subjects. In addition, it has recognized an exclusive initiative in the case of the General State Budget.
Publication and initial approval
Through presentation, the official publication of a bill or non-governmental bill is produced. When the initiative is given to Congressional Members, the Assemblies of Self-governing Communities, or to citizens, the text must be remitted to the Government with the intention of demonstrating its criteria with respect to the initial approval process, as well as its conformity or non-conformity to procedure if this implies an increase in credit or a decrease in budgetary income. If the Government fails to give a reasoned response within thirty days, the non-governmental bill will be included in the agenda that corresponds for its taking into consideration.
Non-governmental bills formulated by Congressional Members, Self-governing Communities, and by citizens, are subject to initial approval procedures that consist of a debate and a vote on its opportunities and principles. This acts as a preliminary filter to eliminate all initiatives that are not properly formulated in their fundamental structure for the majority of the Chamber. Excluded from these proceedings are Government bills and non-governmental bills that are received from the Senate.
Presentation of amendments
At the time of publication of a bill, or through its taking into consideration, a time frame of fifteen days is opened to present amendments, which can be to the whole text or partial amendments to certain sections. Only Parliamentary Groups can formulate the first amendments.
Debate on the whole in Plenary Sitting
Once the time limit for presentation of amendments has passed, the first debate can be conducted in the Plenary Sitting concerning amendments to the whole bill that is presented. In this way, the debate has a conditional feature, because it takes place only when one of these amendments is formulated. If an amendment to the whole bill is approved, the bill is understood to be rejected. If it is rejected, which is the normal case, the bill is remitted to the proper Committee to continue its procedural treatment.
Deliberation in Committee
Through the presentation of amendments, or the possible debate on the whole thereof, the proper Committee designates the reporting sub-committee (Ponencia), which is a reduced body of plural composition, and it meets behind closed doors in order to study the different formulated amendments and to issue a report. This phase is highly important, because at that moment, Congressional Members and the Groups consider the bill or non-governmental bill in more detail.
When the reporting body report is finished, the debate within the Committee begins. The Committee meetings are not open to the public, but members of communication media with proper identification are allowed to attend. When the debate finishes, the commission issues a report containing the proposed text. The Groups whose amendments are not accepted can save them for later discussion and vote in the Plenary Sitting.
Debate and voting in Plenary Sitting
After the intervention of the Committee, and once the agenda for the Plenary Sitting is drawn up, a discussion is opened concerning the bill or non-governmental bill and the amendments pertaining to it. The debate usually begins with the introduction of the text by a member of the Government (if it belongs to his initiative), then a report is made, based on the text, by a Member of the Committee . Once the presentation has finished, the debate is governed according to the dispositions of the Speaker, heard by the Bureau and the Board of Spokesmen.
This Plenary Sitting phase is omitted in numerous cases, thanks to the application of the special procedure known as the full legislative authority of the Committee, which determines that after the approval of the bill by the Committee it will go directly to the Senate.
Debate voting and amendments of the Senate
The Senate can pass, in relation to legislative text sent by the Congress, vetoes (a type of full amendment) or amendments to the article body. Some of these must submit to later approval by Congress, which in this way makes decisions about the definitive text.
In the case of a veto, the original text passed by Congress is submitted for ratification, necessitating at this time a vote of the overall majority of Congressional Members within the first two months, or a simple majority once this time limit has expired. The amendments to the article by the Senate need only a simple majority to be accepted by the Chamber and its subsequent incorporation into the definitive text.
Royal Assent and official publication of laws
Once Congress has spoken concerning the amendments or vetoes of the Senate, the law is passed, making its text definitive. The same process occurs when the High Chamber passes a bill without introducing modifications. The law must submit immediately to the procedures of Royal Assent and promulgation by the King, and to its later publication in the Official State Gazette (Boletín Oficial del Estado).
Special legislative procedures
Together with the preceding, Standing Orders of the Congress have other special procedures. Such is the case with procedures related to Organic Acts, State Budget, Self-governing Communities Statutes, constitutional amendment, full legislative authority of the Committees, and a single reading.
Organic Acts, are those related to the implementation of fundamental rights and public liberties, those laying down the Self-governing Communities Statutes and the general electoral system, and others foreseen in the Constitution.
Their principle feature is that they must submit to a final vote of the Plenary Sitting concerning the whole text, in which an overall majority is required to be passed.
The State Budget comprises the expenditures of every year and other financial arrangements. The Government must present it before 1 October of the year previous to the year in which it must be in force. If it is not approved before the first day of the year when it is set to commence, the budget from the previous year will be automatically considered pro-rated, until approval of the new one has been completed. There is a first debate concerning the total budget in the Plenary Sitting of the Chamber, in which the total amount of the budget is fixed. After that, the proper committee intervenes, and finally, the Plenary Sitting once again.
To obtain the approval and reform of the Self-governing Communities Statutes, it is necessary to distinguish between ordinary proceedings, derived from article 143 of the Constitution, and special procedures based on article 151. At the same time, the procedure changes according to the approval or reform of these Statutes. In general, these procedures are characterized by a special participation of the legislative assemblies of the Self-governing Communities, which is more intense regarding the second type of Statutes. In any case, the final resultant text is approved and published as organic law.
Another special procedure is related to constitutional amendment. Reform bills must be approved by a majority of three fifths of each Chamber, with the stipulation that differences, which may emerge between Congress and the Senate, are intended to be resolved through a Joint Committee composed of Congressional Members and Senators. If it were possible to obtain an agreement in this way, Congress could approve the reform by a majority of two thirds, and always when the text would have obtained a favourable vote of an overall majority of the Senate. Finally, a popular referendum must be called concerning the reform when it is solicited within the fifteen days following its approval by one-tenth part of the members of either Chamber.
The procedure is more complicated when the proposed change to the Constitution is either a total reform, or a partial reform that will affect some titles or chapters. Some primary Cortes Generales must approve the reform, these being dissolved immediately afterward. The new ones that are chosen must study and approve it, but in both cases, by a strengthened majority. Finally, the holding of a referendum to ratify the reform is mandatory.
Another special procedure is known as full legislative authority of the Committees, in which these bodies are delegated the authority to directly pass legislative bills, without the usual intervention of the Plenary Sitting, in such a way that after its approval by the committee the text is remitted to the Senate. This procedure is applicable in a high percentage of proposed bills, so that the Plenary Sitting is discharged from all the work its discussion creates, allowing it to be focused on matters considered of major political interest. However, this procedure is excluded from constitutional reform, international affairs, organic and basics acts, and State Budget.
A procedure that in some ways is the opposite of the preceding concerns the approval of legislative bills as a whole. In this case, it is the Plenary that directly approves a text, excluding the phases of the Reporting Sub-committee and Committee. This system was designed for small projects that are not very lengthy or that require only a simple formulation. These characteristics allow them to be accepted or rejected as a whole.
Authorizations and other agreements of Congress
In addition to the approval of laws in a strict sense, Congress intervenes in other kinds of decisions of great importance to the State.
In this way, it recognizes and repeals Royal Decree-Law (Real Decreto-Ley) dictated by the Government for reasons of extraordinary and urgent necessity, which must be accomplished directly by the Plenary Sitting of the Chamber within thirty days following its promulgation. The Permanent Deputation, however, assumes this role, when Congress is dissolved or its term has expired.
Congress authorizes, together with the Senate, the consent for which the State can obligate itself to treaties or international agreements.
Congress authorizes the proposal from the Prime Minister for the holding of a consultative referendum concerning some highly important political question.
On the other hand, the Government needs previous Congressional authorization to arrange an extension of the state of emergency previously announced. Its previous authorization is required for the announcement and extension of a state of emergency to determine its effects, its territorial limits, and its duration. Likewise, Congress has the authority to make a declaration of a state of siege by an absolute majority of its members together with an exclusive proposal by the Government.