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Parliament's most important task, enacting legislation, takes place in plenary session. Parliament enacts new legislation or amends existing legislation on the basis of a government proposal or a Member's motion. Parliament must also consider a citizens' initiative that has been signed by at least 50,000 citizens.
The consideration of a legislative proposal begins with a preliminary debate in plenary session. Decisions on the content of legislation are not made during this debate, which is intended to guide committee work. At the end of the debate Parliament refers the matter to the appropriate committee.
Committees start considering a matters referred to them as soon as possible. It generally takes one or two months for a committee to deal with a matter, but urgent matters can be considered in just a few days if necessary. Large legislative projects can take many months or even years. Once a committee has completed its report, the matter goes back to the plenary session.
Bills require two readings and are considered on the basis of a committee report, which may recommend significant changes to the government proposal. A committee may also recommend that a bill or parts of it be rejected.
In the first reading Parliament decides on the content of a bill. Following a general debate, it looks at a bill section by section. During this stage changes are often proposed to the recommendations in the committee report.
The second reading can begin no earlier than the third day after the first reading and is based on the text approved in the first reading. At this time a bill is either approved or rejected; the content can no longer be changed.
A simple majority of votes is required to approve or reject ordinary legislation: a majority of one vote is sufficient. If a proposal concerns the Constitution, however, a more complicated procedure must be followed to enact, amend or repeal a bill.A bill regarding the Constitution must first be approved by a simple majority of votes on its second reading. It is then left in abeyance until after the next general election. The newly elected Parliament brings the bill back up for discussion. Final approval requires a two-thirds majority of votes, and no changes may be made in the bill's content at this time.A bill regarding the Constitution need not wait until after the next general election if it is declared urgent by a five-sixths majority of votes and then approved by a two-thirds majority.
After a bill has been approved, Parliament's response is prepared. This document includes the approved legal text together with other decisions made by Parliament in the matter. It is signed by the Speaker and the Secretary General and is then sent to the President of the Republic for ratification. Once the President has signed a bill, it is published in the Statutes of Finland.
The President can also refuse to ratify a bill. In this case it goes back to Parliament, which can either approve the bill without changes or reject it. If Parliament again approves the bill, it enters into force without the need for ratification. Otherwise the bill is allowed to lapse.