THE FEDERAL SENATE OF BRAZIL
I - COMPOSITION
Eighty-one representatives from the federated states and the federal district (three Senators from each).
II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Method of voting: single-ballot majority voting.
Each constituent votes for two candidates when two thirds of the members are standing, and for one candidate when one third of them are standing.
Election by secret ballot.
Term of office: eight years, renewable every four years (one third and two thirds of the members alternately).
Most recent election: 6 October 2002.
Criteria for eligibility: 35 years of age.
III - SYSTEM OF SESSIONS
A - ORDINARY SESSIONS
Two per year: from 15 February to 30 June, and from 1 August to 15 December.
A session may not terminate until the draft law on budgetary guidelines has been approved.
The Senate sits on over 200 days every year (and more than 50 days jointly with the Chamber of Deputies). The Senate normally sits on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons from 2.30pm, and on Fridays from 9.00am.
B - EXTRAORDINARY SESSIONS
These deal with an agenda determined:
1) by the President of the Federal Senate on the imposition of a state of defence, in the event of a Federal intervention, where there is authorisation for the establishment of a state of siege, and for the swearing-in and assumption of roles of the President or Vice-president of the Republic;
2) by the President of the Republic or the Presidents of the two chambers, or at the request of the majority of members in an emergency or in the event of a matter of significant public importance.
IV - RELATIONS WITH THE OTHER HOUSE AND WITH THE EXECUTIVE
A - LEGISLATIVE POWER
Bicameral system where the houses have equal powers.
1) The Right to propose legislation
This right lies with members of the Senate and its committees, deputies (and members of Chamber of Deputies committees), the National Congress (the Parliament), the President of the Republic, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the Public Prosecutor of the Republic, and citizens (1% of the national electorate distributed over at least five states and representing no fewer than 0.3% of voters in each case), but excluding certain matters that are the exclusive competence of the President of the Republic: these include staffing levels in the armed forces, administrative and judicial organisation, fiscal and budgetary measures, public services, and staff employed in local administration (e.g. the federated states).
2) Right of amendment
3) Legislative procedure
a) Common law procedure:
Draft legislation approved by one chamber is examined by the other at a single reading, followed by a vote; the bill is then forwarded for approval or promulgation if it has been approved, and for filing if it has been rejected.
The amended bill is then sent back to the chamber from which it has come for further examination.
Before laws are examined in plenary session, they must first be looked at by one or more of the standing committees.
b) Special measures:
Draft legislation emanating from the President of the Republic or the Supreme Federal Tribunal is first examined by the Chamber of Deputies.
If the President of the Republic has asked for one of his bills to be dealt as a matter of urgency, and if it is not submitted to either of the chambers within 45 days, it is placed on the agenda, and discussion on other matters is suspended until the bill is voted on.
Amendments voted on by the Senate are examined by the Chamber of Deputies within ten days.
c) Budgetary matters:
A standing committee consisting of senators and deputies issues opinions on amendments that meet certain criteria of admissibility.
4) Law-making in committee
Draft legislation may be examined and voted on in committee except where one tenth of chamber members demand that it is sent back for a plenary hearing.
5) Presidential veto
If the President of the Republic considers that draft legislation is either wholly or partly unconstitutional or contrary to the public interest, he may apply his total or partial veto within 15 working days from the date of receipt, and notify the President of the Senate of his reasons within 48 hours.
The veto is considered at a joint sitting of the National Congress chaired by the President of the Senate within 30 days of the date of receipt, and it may only be lifted by an absolute majority of deputies and senators voting in secret ballot.
In the absence of any debate during this period, the veto is placed at the top of the agenda of the next session until a final vote is taken, except where provisional measures are being examined (see below).
In the event of the veto not being lifted, the law has to be promulgated by the President of the Republic (or by the President or Vice-president of the Senate) within 48 hours.
The terms of the draft legislation may only be re-stated in a new bill during the same session by an absolute majority decision of the members of one of the chambers of the National Congress.
6) Provisional measures
In the case of an emergency matter, or one that is of particular importance, the President of the Republic may adopt provisional measures that have the force of law. He is obliged to present them to the National Congress immediately. During the parliamentary recess, the National Congress must meet in extraordinary session within five days.
Provisional measures lose their efficacy from the outset if they do not become law within 30 days of being published. The National Congress is under an obligation to legislate on the legal implications.
7) Delegated legislation
The President of the Republic may ask the National Congress for delegated powers.
The following matters are excluded from the scope of delegated powers: actions that lie within the exclusive competence of the National Congress, the Chamber of Deputies and the Federal Senate; complementary (i.e. organic) legislation; and organisation of the legal system, the status of magistrates, nationality, citizenship, rights, multi-annual plans, and issues relating to the budget.
B - SUPERVISORY POWERS
1) Commissions of Inquiry
Commissions of inquiry may be set up by the Federal Senate or by the Chamber of Deputies alone, or by both chambers acting in concert, at the request of one third of the members, to investigate a specific matter within a specific time-period.
Their conclusions may be passed on to the Public Sector Ministry to press civil and criminal charges for breach of duty against those responsible.
Commissions of inquiry have powers of investigation that are on a par with those of the judicial authorities.
2) Charges of failing to fulfil statutory duties
The Senate chaired by the President of the Supreme Federal Tribunal has the sole right to institute legal proceedings against, and try, the President and Vice-President of the Republic in cases of allegations of failing to fulfil statutory duties, and Ministers of State in the case of similar offences in which they may be involved. In such circumstances, the same competence also attaches to members of the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the General Prosecutor of the Republic, and the Advocate-General of the Union).
A guilty verdict reached by a two-thirds majority in the Senate leads to removal from office, and an eight-year ban on taking public employment, without prejudice to other possible legal sanctions.
3) Summoning of Ministers
The following constitutes a failure to fulfil statutory duties: the unjustified absence of a Minister of State, or of a person directing a body directly subordinate to the President of the Republic, following a summons from the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies or its committees to provide information in person about matters previously notified.
4) Written questions
The Office of the Senate or of the Chamber of Deputies may address written requests for information to the individuals mentioned above.
Failure to reply or to attend within 30 days and the supply of false information similarly constitute a failure to fulfil statutory duties.
5) Financial and budgetary matters
a) The monitoring of the accounting, financial, budgetary, operational and assets-related aspects of the Union (i.e. the Federal State) and of bodies of the direct and indirect administration regarding legality, legitimacy, economic opportunity, the awarding of subsidies, and renunciation of debts is carried out by the National Congress.
At the request of the Senate (or of the Chamber of Deputies, a commission of inquiry or a technical committee, or on its own initiative), the Tribunal of Accounts of the Union may conduct accounting, financial, budgetary, operational and assets-related inspections and audits in administrative departments of the three houses.
A standing joint commission of senators and deputies:
- examines, and publishes opinions on, projects, on accounts presented annually by the President of the Republic, and on plans and other programmes;
- carries out a without-prejudice budgetary monitoring and overview exercise on the activities of the commissions set up by the National Congress and of the two chambers.
b) The Senate has exclusive competence to authorise a number of the financial operations (e.g. loans, debts and guarantees) of a variety of bodies, including the Union.
6) The international arena
a) The Senate has exclusive competence to approve by secret ballot the choice of permanent diplomatic heads of mission.
b) The National Congress has exclusive competence to:
1 - take definitive decisions on treaties, agreements and international actions that incorporate charges or commitments involving national assets;
2 - authorise declarations of war, peace agreements, and foreign forces passing through the country or being temporarily stationed there.
7) Special circumstances
The National Congress has exclusive competence to:
a) authorise the President or Vice-President of the Republic to be out of the country for more than 15 days;
b) suspend the law-making activities of the executive by stepping outside the limitations of the legislature and those of legislative delegation;
c) approve initiatives related to nuclear activities;
d) authorise referenda and call plebiscites.
V - SPECIAL MEASURES
A - CONSTITUENT POWER
The Constitution may be amended on the proposal of at least one third of senators, together with one third of deputies, the President of the Republic and over half the federated assemblies.
The proposal is debated and voted on twice in both chambers of the National Congress, and is deemed to have been adopted if it receives the votes of three fifths of the members of each.
B - PROCEEDINGS ON THE GROUNDS OF UNCONSTITUTIONAL BEHAVIOUR
Such proceedings, together with declaratory actions relating to unconstitutionality, may be brought by the Office of the Federal Senate.
C - EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES
The National Congress has exclusive competence to approve the state of defence or federal intervention, authorise the state of siege, or suspend them.
D - NOMINATIONS
The Senate has exclusive competence to:
1) approve the choice of certain magistrates, members of the Tribunal of Accounts, territorial governors, the president and director of the Central Bank, the General Prosecutor of the Republic (in addition to his removal from office), and certain other senior officials;
2) elect members of the Council of the Republic (the Council of the President of the Republic), of which the President of the Senate is already a member.
E - SPECIAL FUNCTIONS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL SENATE
He deputises for the President of the Republic or the Vice-president in the event of the death of the President of the Chamber of Deputies,
He is also a member of the National Defence Council.
F - The Senate has exclusive competence to authorise loans by local, federated and federal executives.
G - REPRESENTATIVE COMMISSION OF THE NATIONAL CONGRESS
Members of this Commission are elected at the session's last ordinary sitting in proportion to the number of seats held by parties: they hold office for the period of the parliamentary recess.