Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Omnibus Bill Definition:

A draft law before a legislature which contains more than one substantive matter, or several minor matters which have been combined into one bill, ostensibly for the sake of convenience.

Related Terms: Bill, Legislative Branch

Sometimes, a government can slip in a substantial change in legislation and present an omnibus bill as an all-or-nothing tactic.

An omnibus bill, contrary to most bills presented before a legislative assembly, proposes a mix of changes to a variety of existing statutes or subjects which forces the hand of the body to approve or defeat the whole legislative package.

Audrey O'Brien wrote:

"... an omnibus bill seeks to amend, repeal or enact several Acts, and is characterized by the fact that it is made up of a number of related but separate initiatives.

"An omnibus bill has one basic principle or purpose which ties together all the proposed enactments and thereby renders the Bill intelligible for parliamentary purposes.

"One of the reasons cited for introducing an omnibus bill is to bring together in a single bill all of the legislative amendments arising from a single policy decision in order to facilitate parliamentary debate."

In Commonwealth v Barnett, with reference to American parliamentary law in 1901, the Court used these words:

"Bills, popularly called omnibus bills, became a crying evil, not only from the confusion and distraction of the legislative mind by the jumbling together of incongruous subjects, but still more by the facility they afforded to corrupt combinations of minorities with different interests to force the passage of bills with provisions which could never succeed if they stood on their separate merits.

"So common was this practice that it got a popular name, universally understood, as logrolling.

"A still more objectionable practice grew up, of putting what is known as a rider (that is, a new and unrelated enactment or provision) on the appropriation bills, and thus coercing the executive to approve obnoxious legislation, or bring the wheels of the government to a stop for want of funds.

"These were some of the evils which the later changes in the constitution were intended to remedy.

"Omnibus bills were done away with by the amendment of 1864 that no bill shall contain more than one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in the title.

"But this amendment excepted appropriation bills, and as to them the evil still remained. The convenience, if not the necessity, of permitting a general appropriation bill containing items so diverse as to be fairly within the description of different subjects was patent."

REFERENCES:

  • Commonwealth v. Barnett, 199 Pa. 161 (1901)
  • O'Brien, Audrey and others, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2nd Ed. (Ottawa: Editions Yvon Blais, 2009), page 724

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