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Article Index


Chapter X

Meetings and Organization of the Legislature.

§1. The legislature meets as often as the constitution requires, to enact such laws as may be necessary to promote the public welfare, and to perform such other duties as are assigned to it by the constitution and the laws. In about half of the states, sessions are held annually; in the others biennially, or once in two years. A legislative session includes the daily meetings of a legislature from the time of its first assembling, to the day of final adjournment. Thus we say the session commenced in January and ended in March. The word _session_ has reference also to a single sitting, from the hour at which the members assemble on any day, to the time of adjournment on the same day. Thus we say, the legislature holds a daily session of four hours; or, it holds two sessions a day, as the case may be.

§2. Meetings of the legislature are held at a place permanently fixed by the constitution; at which place the principal state officers keep their offices. Hence it is called the _seat of government_, or perhaps more frequently, the _capital_ of the state. _Capital_ is from the Latin _caput_, the head, and has come to mean chief, or the highest. A capital city is therefore the chief city of a state or kingdom. But the word _capital_, applied to a city, now generally indicates the seat of government.

§3. When the two houses have assembled in their respective chambers, some person designated for that purpose administers to the members of each house the oath of office, in which they solemnly swear (or affirm,) that they will support the constitution of the United States, and the constitution of the state, and faithfully discharge the duties of their office.

§4. Each house then proceeds to _organize_ for business, by appointing proper officers, and determining the right of members to seats in the house. In organizing a legislative body, the first thing done is the election of a presiding officer, or chairman, who is usually called _speaker_. The lieutenant-governor, in states in which there is one, presides in the senate, and is called _president of the senate_. In the absence of the presiding officer, a temporary speaker or president is chosen, who is called speaker or president _pro tempore_, commonly abbreviated, _pro tem._, which is a Latin phrase, meaning _for the time_.

§5. The duty of the person presiding is to keep order, and to see that the business of the house is conducted according to certain established rules. When a vote is to be taken, he puts the question, which is done by requesting all who are in favor of a proposed measure, to say _aye_, and those opposed to say _no_. And, when a vote has been taken, he declares the question to be carried or lost. This part of a speaker's business is similar to that of the chairman of an ordinary public meeting.

§6. The other officers chosen by each house are, a _clerk_ to keep a record or journal of its proceedings; to take charge of papers, and to read such as are to be read to the house; and to do such other things as may be required of him; a _sergeant-at-arms_, to arrest members and other persons guilty of disorderly conduct, to compel the attendance of absent members, and to do other business of a like nature: also one or more _door-keepers_. The officers mentioned in this section are not chosen from the members of the house.

§7. The constitution does not prescribe to either house the order of business, or the particular manner in which it shall be done; but authorizes each house to determine for itself the rules of its proceedings. But there are sundry things which it expressly enjoins. It determines what portion of the members shall constitute a quorum to do business. _Quorum_ is the Latin of the English words, _of whom_, and has strangely come to signify the _number_ or _portion_ of any body of men who have power to act for the whole. Thus with reference to a legislative body consisting of a certain number of members, instead of saying, A majority _quorum_ shall have power to act; or, A majority _of whom_ shall have power to act, our constitutions generally say, A majority shall constitute a quorum to do business. In some states, more than a bare majority is required for a quorum.

§8. Constitutions generally require also that the proceedings of legislative bodies shall be open to public inspection. The doors may be closed against spectators only when the public good shall require secrecy. And that the people may be fully informed of what is done, each house is required to keep and publish a journal of its proceedings.

§9. Provision is also made, either by the constitution or by laws against injury or interruption to the business of the legislature. Members may not, by any prosecution at law, except for crimes and misdemeanors, be hindered during their attendance at the sessions of the legislature, nor in going to or returning from the same. Each house may compel the attendance of absent members. It may for good cause expel a member, and punish, not only its members and officers, but other persons, for disorderly conduct, or for obstructing its proceedings.