I'm Nick Karns. I'm a political scientist in the Sanford School of Public Policy here at Duke University. I'm originally from a small town in Kansas called Pittsburgh. And I have a PhD in politics and social policy from Princeton. Here at Duke, I teach courses on U.S. politics and on political ambition or why people choose to run for political office. And I do research on why politicians are so much better off than ordinary Americans, why it is that rich people hold most of the political offices in this country. Now, there is a lot of research and writing on legislatures. If you just search for Congress on one of the major bookseller websites, you'll find thousands and thousands of books on the subject. So, there's a lot we could say about legislatures. Our goal today is just going to be to answer two big questions. What exactly do legislators do? And how do they do it? How do they work? So first, what are legislatures? Most definitions you'll see online will say something like this: A legislature is a deliberative assembly that has the power to make or change the laws that govern a political entity. That's a mouthful so let's unpack it a little. A legislature is a deliberative assembly. A deliberative assembly is just a large group of people who meet regularly to make decisions about important issues. So if you volunteer for the Cub Scouts and all the leaders meet once a month to make decisions, that's a deliberative assembly. The thing that makes legislatures different from other deliberative assemblies is that legislatures have the power to make the laws that govern political entities. So legislatures are groups of people who meet to make or change the laws that govern a country or a state or a city. Here in the U.S., the most famous legislature is Congress, our national legislature. Congress makes federal laws, laws that govern the entire country. All 50 states also have their own legislatures that make state laws. And most cities have city legislatures called city councils that make city laws. Now, what makes legislatures important in the political process is that they're the only political institutions that can actually make new laws. Executives like presidents or governors can veto new laws that they don't like. Judges can overturn existing laws that violate the Constitution but the only branch of government that can actually make new laws in the first place is the legislative branch. So how exactly do legislatures make new laws? How do they work? Well first, people identify problems in the world. Ideas for new laws can come from anyone, from ordinary citizens, from interest groups, from social movements, from businesses. Virtually, everyone has problems that they wish government would solve. But only legislators can introduce bills, and that's important. I can't introduce a bill in Congress. The president of the United States can't introduce a bill in Congress. Only legislators can introduce new bills. The other thing that's important to know at this stage is Congress and most state legislatures are each divided into two chambers or groups of legislatures. A larger chamber in Congress that's called the House of Representatives, and a smaller chamber in Congress that's called the Senate. A bill has to pass in both chambers in order to move on. But a legislator can only serve in one chamber at a time. So their first goal is to introduce a bill in their own chamber and try to pass it there. When a legislator introduces a bill, it's automatically sent to what are called committees. A committee is just a group of legislators who've been appointed to work on a specific issue like the budget, or foreign relations, or agriculture, or Veterans' affairs. When a bill is introduced, it is automatically sent to any committee that works on issues covered in the bill. Each committee then reads the bill, debates it, makes any changes they want, and votes on whether to recommend the bill to the rest of the chamber. However, committees usually don't have time to work on every bill that gets introduced, so they have the power to decide which bills they're going to focus on and move forward with and which bills they're just going to ignore. If all the relevant committees approve a bill, it gets sent to the chamber which is all of the members of that part of the legislature. And they have a chance to read it again, debate it again, and make any additional changes that they want. Like the committee, the chamber doesn't have time to consider every bill and it's the leaders of the majority party who get to decide which bills are first in line for debate. If a majority of the members in a given chamber pass a bill, it's then sent to the other chamber. And if they pass the bill but the wording isn't exactly the same, the two chambers have to send a few delegates to meet and reconcile any remaining differences. Then the reconciled bill is sent back to both chambers which vote on it one last time. Any bill that survives that gauntlet is then sent to the executive branch for a final signature by the president or the governor of its state. Now, this process is really challenging and the vast majority of bills don't make it through. About 90% of bills introduced in Congress die in committee, meaning that the committee votes not to let the bill move on or the committee simply ignores the bill and never even considered it. Another 6-7% of bills don't pass an identical form in both chambers of Congress. So only about 3-4% of the bills that are introduced in Congress are ever sent to the president. If you want to pass new legislation, it isn't enough to just introduce it. You have to be extremely smart about it. If you want your bill to get through the committee stage, you have to find a way to get the committee members and leaders interested in the bill and you have to have a bill they like, that they want to pass. Otherwise, you don't stand much chance. Likewise, if you want your bill to pass in your chamber, you have to make sure that the party leaders are interested, that they like the bill, and you have to make sure that most other legislators like your bill, too. Our political institutions are designed to make it difficult to pass new laws. Committees, party leaders, and regular legislators can all stop new legislation. That means that if you want to change the law, you need to know your audience. People who pass new bills spend a lot of time meeting with committee members, party leaders, and other legislators and learning what they want in the bill, explaining their bill, highlighting its good qualities, and sometimes, modifying their bill before they introduce it to address concerns that committee or party leaders or other legislators raise. Above all, the most important thing to know about how legislatures work is that they can be very slow. And if you want to change a law, you have to be patient. Significant new laws usually take multiple tries. Sometimes, year after year. Sometimes, for a decade or more. People who come in wanting a quick win are usually disappointed. But people who have a medium to long term perspective who come in knowing that it might take years to pass a bill, they tend to be the people who ultimately write the laws that are on the books in our country. And there's a lot more to learn about how legislatures work. And if you'd like to keep going from here, press pause and take a minute to search for these resources.