Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A private bill is the term used for legislation that originates from a particular member of a legislature or parliament or from a member of the public. Private bills developed in the United Kingdom as a means of obtaining redress from a specific wrong or obtaining a benefit that was not otherwise available through statute or the common law.
There are many examples of such private legislation in democratic countries. In Canada prior to the passage of the Divorce Act in 1968 it was only possible to obtain a legislative divorce. This required an application to the Canadian Senate which reviewed and investigated petitions for divorce. The final report of the committee handling the case would then be voted upon by the Senate and subsequently made into a Canadian law. In the United Kingdom Parliament, private bills were used in the nineteenth century to create corporations, grant monopolies and give individuals rights in excess of the public law. Their use has become more limited in the twentieth century as statutory law and statutory instruments have enabled many previous situations to be dealt with through other legislative mechanisms.
In the United States private bills were common between 1817 and 1971. Now federal agencies are able to deal with most of the issues that were previously dealt with under private bills as these agencies have been granted sufficient discretion by Congress to deal with exceptions to the general legislative scheme of various laws. The kinds of private bills that are still introduced include grants of citizenship to individuals who are otherwise ineligible for normal visa processing; alleviation of tax liability; armed services decorations and veteran benefits. Private bills in the United States have been in the news recently, as on March 21, 2005, Congress passed a private bill to provide relief to the parents of Terri Schiavo, by allowing them a hearing in federal district court as to whether their daughter, a woman in a persistent vegetative state since 1990, should have her feeding tube removed.
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