The Federal Senate's Legislative Activity

(NOTE: Links in portuguese)


The Federal Legislative Power is exercised by the National Congress, which is composed of two Legislative Houses: the Chamber of Deputies and the Federal Senate. It can thus be said that the Federal Legislative Branch is bicameral. The typical roles of the Legislative Branch is to legislate and oversee.

Composition of the Senate

As funções do Senado Federal são exercidas pelos senadores da República, que são eleitos segundo o princípio majoritário para representarem os estados e o Distrito Federal. Cada estado e o Distrito Federal elegem três senadores para um mandato de oito anos. A renovação da representação se dá a cada quatro anos, alternadamente, por um e dois terços. Cada senador é eleito com dois suplentes.

Meet the Senator of the Republic

Meet the Senators on the Steering Committee of the Federal Senate

The political parties represented by Senators are organized, as provided by the Standing Rules of the Senate, into blocs and leaderships.

Get to know the parliamentary blocs and leaderships

To perform its duties, the Senate is organized into collective bodies. The main ones are the Plenary and the Committees.

The meeting of all senators takes place in the Plenary. It is the highest instance of deliberation. The Board (Steering Committee), which is formed by a president, two vice-presidents, four secretaries, and four substitute secretaries, directs the Plenary’s activities. All of them are elected for a two-year term.

Committees may be either standing or temporary. Standing committees are defined in the Standing Rules of the Federal Senate, which establish their number, composition, and thematic area. Temporary committees are defined in their respective act of creation.

Among the specific duties of the committees, it is worth mentioning the competent jurisdictionto consider terminatively (without action of the Plenary) some propositions and to investigate facts within the scope of a parliamentary committee of investigation.

Get to know the committees

FGet to know the Directing Committee

Follow the Presidency

There are several bodies through which the Federal Senate performs its duties: the Disciplinary Board, the Ombudsman's Office, prosecutors' offices, forums, councils, and parliamentary fronts and groups.

Get to know other Senate bodies

Operation of the National Congress

The National Congress operates in legislative terms that last four years. Each year represents an ordinary legislative session, which operates in two periods, from February 2 to July 17, and from August 1 to December 22. The first period will only be closed after the approval of the Budget Directives Bill.

Extraordinary legislative sessions may be held whenever the National Congress is convened to deliberate exclusively on the matter that motivated the call for an extraordinary session. The chances of convening are set forth in the Constitution.

Operation of the Federal Senate

In the scope of the Federal Senate, meetings in the Plenary are called sessions, but the Standing Rules call preparatory meetings those that occur before the opening of the Ordinary Legislative Session. Preparatory meetings are for the inauguration of senators and for the election of the Board in the first and third years of the congress.

Once a legislative session is in course, four different kinds of sessions may occur in the Plenary: deliberative sessions, non-deliberative sessions, special sessions, and thematic debates sessions.

Deliberative sessions may be ordinary or extraordinary. Ordinary sessions are held from Mondays to Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. and on Fridays at 9:00 a.m., having a previously designated agenda. Extraordinary deliberative sessions may occur at any time and must have a specific agenda.

The sessions are usually public but they will be secret when called by the President of the Senate,

decided by the Plenary, or, obligatorily, when considering matters specified by the Standing Rules.

The gatherings to conduct legislative work in the committees are called meetings. The committees’ meetings cannot coincide with the order of business of the ordinary deliberative sessions, in which the Plenary's agenda is considered.

Legislative Role

What is the legislative role of the Senate?

As a body of the Federal Legislative Branch, and jointly with the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate's usual constitutional role is to legislate, which involves issuing regulatory acts that derive directly from the Federal Constitution and which may establish rights or create obligations. Such a role is performed through the Legislative Process.

What is the Legislative Process?

It is the order of acts a legislative matter goes through until it becomes a norm.

What are legislative matters?

Legislative matters are the essence of the Legislative Process. Many of them are subject to the Senate and to the Chamber of Deputies' deliberation and, once approved, become rules, which will legally organize the normative structure of the country and, ultimately, democracy itself.

What are the types of legislative matters?

Constitutional Amendments, Laws (supplementary laws, ordinary laws, and delegated laws), Provisional Presidential Decrees, Legislative Decrees, and Resolutions. In addition to these, other matters — such as Requests, Messages, and Advisory Opinions — help the Legislative Process, although they do not generate legal norms.

What are Constitutional Amendment Bills?

Constitutional Amendment Bills are suggestions for changes in the wording of the Federal Constitution. They must be considered in two rounds in each Legislative House of the National Congress. Their approval depends on the favorable votes of three-fifths of the members of the corresponding legislative houses.

What are Bills of Law?

Bills of Law are legislative matters, which deal with issues intended for ordinary or supplementary laws. They may be initiated either by the Federal Senate (Senators or Committees) or by the Chamber of Deputies (Federal Deputies, Committees of the Chamber of Deputies, citizens, or agencies of other Branches of Power, such as Presidency of the Republic, Federal Supreme Court, Superior Courts, Office of the Attorney General, or the Court of Appeals of the Federal District and Territories). If approved, the Bills of Law initiated in one of the Legislative Houses are submitted to the other house for review. The need for a Bill of Law to be reviewed, necessarily going through both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, is what we call the bicameral system.

When the reviewing House proposes changes to the Bills of Law, the changes come in the form of Amendments and Substitute Bills and are submitted for reconsideration of the House that initiated the legislative process.

What are Provisional Presidential Decrees?

Provisional Presidential Decrees are regulatory acts with a legal effect. The President of the Republic, according to constitutional provisions, may issue them in relevant and urgent cases. After consideration of the Houses of the National Congress within 120 days, they can be converted into law or lose their effectiveness from the moment they were issued. They may also be amended during the legislative process in the form of a Bill of Conversion.

What are Bills of Legislative Decree?

Bills of Legislative Decree are matters that result in typically legislative acts concerning issues of exclusive competent jurisdiction of the National Congress. They are considered separately by the Chamber of Deputies and by the Federal Senate.

What are Bills of Resolution?

Bills of Resolution are legislative matters that, after approval, convey rules that regulate issues that fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Senate and are considered exclusively by this House.

Are there any other legislative matters?

Yes. The Senate's legislative activity also includes Messages, Requests, Advisory Opinions, and others.

What are Messages?

Messages are matters that originate in bodies that are not part of the Legislative Branch and are submitted to the Federal Senate for information or appreciation, according to their nature. Such is the case of Messages of appointment of authorities (for example, directors of entities such as the Central Bank), magistrates, and heads of permanent diplomatic missions (ambassadors).

What are Requests?

Requests refer to matters either internal or external to the Senate and can be autonomous (such as requests for information, to summon a Cabinet Minister, applause, censure, and condolences, among others) or directly connected to other legislative matters, such as requests for joint processing, detachment, fast track etc.

Temporary committees and Parliamentary Committees of Investigation (CPIs) are also created, modified, and extended by means of Requests.

What are Advisory Opinions?

Advisory opinions are, in general, statements made by the committees about the matter submitted for their consideration. There are also advisory opinions presented by the Steering Committee and by the Plenary, in lieu of the originally appointed committee. The drafting of the advisory opinion is the preparation phase of the matter, which is essential for consideration of the Plenary and, consequently, for the entire legislative process.

Supervisory Role

Due to a republican principle, citizens — whether directly or through their elected representatives — are able to oversee the government to ensure proper application of public funds and respect for norms.

Thus, in addition to its legislative function, the National Congress also exercises a supervisory role, as stated in article 49, item X, of the Federal Constitution. To fulfill this role, the National Congress has the support of the Federal Court of Accounts.

Article 49 of Constitution

Article 58 of Constitution

Article 70 of Constitution

Article 71 of Constitution

Exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Senate

Besides its usual competent jurisdiction to legislate and oversee, the Federal Senate also has exclusive jurisdictions, outlined in Article 52 of the Federal Constitution.