Legislative Branch - History

Legislative Branch  - History

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Legislative branch - section of government that makes laws. In the federal government, the legislative branch consists of: Congress, the Library of Congress, the Congressional Budget Office, and General Accounting Office, and the Government Printing Office. On the state level, the state legislatures make up the legislative branch.

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The Legislative Branch

The United States Congress is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Learn more about the powers of the Legislative Branch of the federal government of the United States.

Established by Article I of the Constitution, the Legislative Branch consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which together form the United States Congress. The Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to enact legislation and declare war, the right to confirm or reject many Presidential appointments, and substantial investigative powers.

The House of Representatives is made up of 435 elected members, divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. In addition, there are 6 non-voting members, representing the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and four other territories of the United States. The presiding officer of the chamber is the Speaker of the House, elected by the Representatives. He or she is third in the line of succession to the Presidency.

Members of the House are elected every two years and must be 25 years of age, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and a resident of the state (but not necessarily the district) they represent.

The House has several powers assigned exclusively to it, including the power to initiate revenue bills, impeach federal officials, and elect the President in the case of an electoral college tie.

The Senate is composed of 100 Senators, 2 for each state. Until the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, Senators were chosen by state legislatures, not by popular vote. Since then, they have been elected to six-year terms by the people of each state. Senator's terms are staggered so that about one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years. Senators must be 30 years of age, U.S. citizens for at least nine years, and residents of the state they represent.

The Vice President of the United States serves as President of the Senate and may cast the decisive vote in the event of a tie in the Senate.

The Senate has the sole power to confirm those of the President's appointments that require consent, and to ratify treaties. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule: the House must also approve appointments to the Vice Presidency and any treaty that involves foreign trade. The Senate also tries impeachment cases for federal officials referred to it by the House.

In order to pass legislation and send it to the President for his signature, both the House and the Senate must pass the same bill by majority vote. If the President vetoes a bill, they may override his veto by passing the bill again in each chamber with at least two-thirds of each body voting in favor.

Legislative Branch

The legislative arm of the state is the North Carolina General Assembly. They enact general and local laws that promote the best interests of the state, and establish rules and regulations governing the conduct of the people.

Like the federal government and almost all the other states (Nebraska being the only exception), North Carolina has a bicameral legislature, consisting of two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The legislature meets annually the so-called "Long Session" occurs in odd numbered years, while the "Short Session" occurs in even numbered years. Occasionally, in the case of a special need, the Governor may call a Special Session of the General Assembly after they have adjourned for the year.


The Senate has 50 members. Elections for all 50 seats are held every two years. The Lieutenant Governor is the President of the Senate however, his/her main duty is to cast a deciding vote in the case of a tie. At the beginning of each biennium, the Senate chooses a President pro Tempore, who presides in the absence of the Lieutenant Governor. The most important duty of the President pro Tempore is to appoint the members to the various standing committees in the Senate.

House of Representatives

The House of Representatives has 120 members. Elections for all 120 seats are held every 2 years. At the beginning of each session, the members of the House choose a Speaker, who presides over the business of the House. In extraordinary cases, such as in the 2003-04 biennium, when the house was evenly divided between the two political parties, co-Speakers may be chosen. As in the Senate, the most important duty of the Speaker is to appoint the members to the various standing committees.

Law making

Much of the work of the General Assembly is done by standing committees. These committees consider the bills introduced into the two houses, hold hearings, make such changes and amendments as they think necessary, and report their findings back to their respective chambers. If the report on the final version of the bill is favorable, it comes up for debate on the floor of the House or Senate. After final passage in one chamber, the bill is then sent to the other chamber, where the same events occur. A bill passed by both houses is then sent to the Governor, who may either veto the bill, or sign it into law.


North Carolina Manual online, Years 2009-2010 and 2011-2012. North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State. https://www.secretary.state.nc.us/Publications/manual.aspx# (accessed April 10, 2015). (Comprehensive resource enumerating North Carolina's state and county governmental structures)

North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State. North Carolina government, 1585-1974 : a narrative and statistical history. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State. 1975. https://archive.org/details/northcarolinagov1975unse (accessed April 10, 2015). (Includes history of legislators by session year, with index including biographical names)

North Carolina Manual (publication years:1874,1913-2010). Available on Internet Archive.


The main functions of the legislative branch are as follows:

  • Elaboration of laws with political prudence, in order that it is fair, adequate, timely, general for all and that it possesses perdurability.
  • It has a representation function which is its main function since through the vote, we elect a representative who will be in charge of presenting our interests before Congress.
  • Inspect, analyze, test, examine, record, review, intervene and verify the functioning of the public administration, that is, the Executive Power.
  • Deliberative function, which guarantees the democratic rights of minorities.
  • A control function that balances the democratic state by controlling it and demanding accountability.
  • Budgetary function to control the revenues and expenditures of the public treasury.
  • It has the function of communication between the represented and the representatives.
  • It must provide information on the legislative task, which allows legislators to produce norms according to reality, need and possibilities of implementation.
  • It has an administrative function where internal procedures are developed for the organization, diligence and performance of the chambers.


When the Constitution was written in 1787, large states would not agree to a legislature with equal representation for each state, and small states would not agree to a legislature with representation based on population. The solution was to create a bicameral Congress. Each state has two members, or senators, in the Senate, giving the states equal representation there. Membership in the House of Representatives, however, is based on population, giving larger states more power there than smaller states. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives must agree for Congress to enact a law.

The Constitution dictates elections for the full House every two years. To become a representative, a person must be at least twenty-five years old, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and an inhabitant of the

state he or she is to represent. The number of representatives a state gets in the House is based on population. Initially, slaves counted as only three-fifths of a person for this calculation, but that was changed by the Fourteenth Amendment after slavery became illegal throughout America.

The Constitution originally called for the selection of senators by state legislatures. The Seventeenth Amendment changed this method to popular elections. Senators serve six-year terms, with the elections staggered so that one-third of the seats are up for election every two years. To become a senator, a person must be at least thirty years old, a U.S. citizen for at least nine years, and an inhabitant of the state he or she is to represent. The vice president of the United States serves as president of the Senate and has the power to cast a vote on legislation and other matters only when the Senate is equally divided.

Explore Dictionary.com

The branch of the federal and state government empowered to make the laws that are then enforced by the executive branch and interpreted by the judicial branch. The legislative branch consists of Congress and the fifty state legislatures. At both state and federal levels, legislatures are made up of popularly elected representatives, who propose laws that are sensitive to the needs and interests of their local constituents. After a law is proposed as a bill, it is sent to appropriate committees for several stages of discussion, research, and modification. It is then debated in both legislative houses — except in Nebraska, which has a single-house legislature — and put to a vote. If the law is passed, it is still subject to further modification and final vote by both houses. Under the system of checks and balances, the president can refuse to sign the bill into law (through the veto power). The legislature can then vote to override the veto. Other checks and balances include legislative powers to impeach public officials ( see impeachment), confirm appointments to the executive and judicial branches, and vote on appropriations.


The General Assembly meets in Virginia's capital of Richmond. When sitting in Richmond, the General Assembly holds sessions in the Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1788 and expanded in 1904. During the American Civil War, the building was used as the capitol of the Confederate States of America, housing the Congress of the Confederate States. The building was renovated between 2005 and 2006. Senators and Delegates have their offices in the General Assembly Building across the street directly north of the Capitol. The Governor of Virginia lives across the street directly east of the Capitol in the Virginia Executive Mansion.

The Virginia General Assembly is described as "the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World". [3] Its existence dates to its establishment at Jamestown on July 30, 1619, by instructions from the Virginia Company of London to the new Governor Sir George Yeardley. It was initially a unicameral body composed of the Company-appointed Governor and Council of State, plus 22 burgesses elected by the settlements and Jamestown. [4] The Assembly became bicameral in 1642 upon the formation of the House of Burgesses. At various times it may have been referred to as the Grand Assembly of Virginia. [5] The General Assembly met in Jamestown from 1619 until 1699, when it first moved to the College of William & Mary near Williamsburg, Virginia, and from 1705 met in the colonial Capitol building. It became the General Assembly in 1776 with the ratification of the Virginia Constitution. The government was moved to Richmond in 1780 during the administration of Governor Thomas Jefferson.

The annual salary for senators is $18,000. [6] The annual salary for delegates is $17,640. [7]

Under the Constitution of Virginia, Senators and Delegates must be 21 years of age at the time of the election, residents of the district they represent, and qualified to vote for members of the General Assembly. Under the Constitution, "a senator or delegate who moves his residence from the district for which he is elected shall thereby vacate his office". [8]

The state constitution specifies that the General Assembly shall meet annually, and its regular session is a maximum of 60 days long in even-numbered years and 30 days long in odd-numbered years, unless extended by a two-thirds vote of both houses. [9] The Governor of Virginia may convene a special session of the General Assembly "when, in his opinion, the interest of the Commonwealth may require" and must convene a special session "upon the application of two-thirds of the members elected to each house". [10]

Article II, section 6 on apportionment states, "Members of the . Senate and of the House of Delegates of the General Assembly shall be elected from electoral districts established by the General Assembly. Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as is practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district." [11] The Redistricting Coalition of Virginia proposes either an independent commission or a bipartisan commission that is not polarized. Member organizations include the League of Women Voters of Virginia, AARP of Virginia, OneVirginia2021, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and Virginia Organizing. [12] Governor Bob McDonnell's Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting for the Commonwealth of Virginia made its report on April 1, 2011. It made two recommendations for each state legislative house that showed maps of districts more compact and contiguous than those adopted by the General Assembly. [13] However, no action was taken after the report was released.

In 2011 the Virginia College and University Redistricting Competition was organized by Professors Michael McDonald of George Mason University and Quentin Kidd of Christopher Newport University. About 150 students on sixteen teams from thirteen schools submitted plans for legislative and U.S. Congressional Districts. They created districts more compact than the General Assembly's efforts. The "Division 1" maps conformed with the Governor's Executive Order, and did not address electoral competition or representational fairness. In addition to the criteria of contiguity, equipopulation, the federal Voting Rights Act and communities of interest in the existing city and county boundaries, "Division 2" maps in the competition did incorporate considerations of electoral competition and representational fairness. Judges for the cash award prizes were Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. [14]

In January 2015 Republican State Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel of Winchester and Democratic State Senator Louise Lucas of Portsmouth sponsored a Senate Joint Resolution to establish additional criteria for the Virginia Redistricting Commission of four identified members of political parties, and three other independent public officials. The criteria began with respecting existing political boundaries, such as cities and towns, counties and magisterial districts, election districts and voting precincts. Districts are to be established on the basis of population, in conformance with federal and state laws and court cases, including those addressing racial fairness. The territory is to be contiguous and compact, without oddly shaped boundaries. The commission is prohibited from using political data or election results to favor either political party or incumbent. It passed with a two-thirds majority of 27 to 12 in the Senate, and was then referred to committee in the House of Delegates. [15]

In 2015, at Vesilind v. Virginia State Board of Elections in a Virginia state court, plaintiffs sought to overturn the General Assembly's redistricting in five House of Delegate and six state Senate districts as violations of both the Virginia and U.S. Constitutions because they failed to represent populations in "continuous and compact territory". [16]

In 2020 before the 2020 redistricting, a constitutional amendment moved redistricting power to a commission consisting of eight lawmakers, four from each party, and eight citizens. [17] The amendment passed with all counties and cities supporting the measure except Arlington. [18]

Veto overrides

State legislatures can override governors' vetoes. Depending on the state, this can be done during the regular legislative session, in a special session following the adjournment of the regular session, or during the next legislative session. The rules for legislative overrides of gubernatorial vetoes in Texas are listed below.

How many legislators are required to vote for an override? Two-thirds of members present in both chambers.

Two-thirds of members present in both chambers must vote to override a veto. If all members are in attendance, this is 100 of the 150 members in the Texas House of Representatives and 21 of the 31 members in the Texas State Senate. Texas is one of 36 states that requires a two-thirds vote from both of its legislative chambers to override a veto.

"Every bill which shall have passed both houses of the Legislature shall be presented to the Governor for his approval. If he approve he shall sign it but if he disapprove it, he shall return it, with his objections, to the House in which it originated, which House shall enter the objections at large upon its journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration, two-thirds of the members present agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, with the objections, to the other House, by which likewise it shall be reconsidered and, if approved by two-thirds of the members of that House, it shall become a law but in such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the members voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each House respectively."

American Institutions II: Congress, the Constitution, and Contemporary Politics

Congress, the Constitution, and Contemporary Politics explores the theoretical foundations of the legislative branch, from the representative bodies of ancient Rome and Greece, the creation of the American bicameral Congress at the Philadelphia Convention, the powers of Congress, and the expansion and change of congressional power over time.

With a growing partisan divide in today’s Congress, we will explore questions of whether Congress is fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities of representing the people, deliberating issues, successfully legislating for the common good, and exercising its oversight of the executive. We will also pay particular attention to the institutional changes within the legislative branch, covering congressional elections and the role of the party and committee leadership. By the end of the course, you should have an informed opinion on whether congress is indeed the “broken branch” and whether further institutional reform is necessary.

Constitutional amendments

In every state but Delaware, voter approval is required to enact a constitutional amendment. In each state, the legislature has a process for referring constitutional amendments before voters. In 18 states, initiated constitutional amendments can be put on the ballot through a signature petition drive. There are also many other types of statewide measures.

The methods in which the Alabama Constitution can be amended:

Article XVIII of the Alabama Constitution defines two ways to amend the state constitution. If three-fifths of the Alabama state legislators approve a proposed constitutional amendment, it is put on the ballot where voters must approve it by a simple majority. The legislature, through a simple majority vote in both chambers, can also call for a ballot measure asking voters to approve a constitutional convention. Alabama does not feature the power of citizen initiative, either for constitutional amendments or statutes.

Below is the section of the Alabama Constitution that outlines the methods of amending the state constitution:

  • If both houses of the Alabama State Legislature by a three-fifths (60 percent) vote agree, then a proposed constitutional amendment shall go on a statewide election ballot. If that amendment is approved by a simple majority of those voting in that election, it becomes part of the constitution.
  • Amendments can initiate in either the Alabama State Senate or the Alabama House of Representatives.
  • Amendments can be voted on either at the next general election, or at a special election date determined by the state legislature. Any such special elections must take place "not less than" three months after the final adjournment of the session of the legislature during which the amendment(s) was proposed.
  • Notice of the fact that an election on a proposed amendment is going to take place must be published in each county of the state for at least eight successive weeks prior to the election.
  • If both chambers of the state legislature agree by a simple majority vote, then a ballot question about whether to have a statewide constitutional convention can be placed on the ballot if that question is approved by a majority of those voting in that election, then a constitutional convention will be called. ⎦]

Below is a list of measures that were referred to the 2021 ballot by the legislature.

Watch the video: What Is the Legislative Branch of the. Government? History


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