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Chapter IX

State Legislatures--how constituted.

§1. The legislature of every state in the union is composed of two houses--a senate and a house of representatives. The latter, or, as it is sometimes called, the lower house, in the states of New York, Wisconsin, and California, is called the assembly; in Maryland and Virginia, the house of delegates; in North Carolina, the house of commons; and in New Jersey, the general assembly. In most of the states, the two houses together are called _general assembly_.

§2. The senate, as well as the other house, is a representative body; its members being elected by the people to represent them. Why, then, is only one of the two branches called the house of representatives? Perhaps for this reason: Under the governments of the colonies, while yet subject to Great Britian, there was but one representative assembly. The other branch of the legislature was called a _council_, consisting of a small number of men who were appointed by the king. After the colonies became free and independent states, a senate was substituted for the old council, and although it is an elective body, the other house, being much more numerous, is called, by way of distinction, the _house of representatives_.

§3. Senators are chosen annually in the six New England states, namely, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. In the other states they are elected for terms of two, three, or four years. In most of the states in which senators are elected for longer terms than one year, they are not all elected at the same time. They are divided into classes; and those of one class go out of office one year, and those of another class another year; so that only a part of the senators are elected every year, or every two, or three, or four years.

§4. The senate, as distinguished from the house of representatives, is sometimes called the upper house. It was designed to be a more select body, composed of men chosen with reference to their superior ability, or their greater experience in public affairs.

§5. Senators are differently apportioned in different states. In some states they are apportioned among the several counties, so that the number to be elected in each county shall be in proportion to the number of its inhabitants. In others they are elected by districts, equal in number to the number of senators to be chosen in the state, and a senator is elected in each district. The districts are to contain, as nearly as may be, an equal number of inhabitants; and sometimes they comprise several counties.

§6. Representatives are apportioned among the counties in proportion to the population in each. In some states they are elected in districts of equal population, counties being sometimes divided in the formation of districts. In the New England states, representatives are apportioned among the towns. In about one-half of the states, they are elected annually; in the others, (including-most of the southern and western states,) they are elected every two years.

§7. The different modes of apportioning members of the legislature have in view the same object--equal representation; that is, giving a member to the same number of inhabitants in one county or district as to an equal number in another. But in some counties the population increases more rapidly than in others. The representation then becomes unequal, being no longer in proportion to population.

§8. In order to keep the representation throughout the state as nearly equal as possible; in other words, to secure to the people of every county or district their just proportion of the representatives, the constitution requires that, at stated times, the people of the state shall be numbered, and a new apportionment of senators and representatives be made among the several counties according to the number of inhabitants in each county; or if the state is one in which members of the legislature are chosen in districts, a new division of the state is made into districts.

§9. But the periods of time between the enumerations of the people, are not the same in all the states. In some states the enumerations are made every ten years; in others, shorter periods have been fixed, from eight down to four years. This enumeration or numbering of the people is called taking the census. _Census_ is from the Latin, and was used by the ancient Romans to signify a declaration or statement made before the censors by the citizens, containing an enumeration or register of themselves, their wives, children, servants, and their property and its valuation. In the United States, although the census sometimes includes a similar register, the word usually means simply an enumeration of the people.

§10. The constitution also prescribes the qualifications of senators and representatives. If, as qualifications for an elector, full age, citizenship, and a considerable term of residence in the state and county, are properly required, as we have seen, (Chap. VI. §2-5,) they must be at least equally necessary for those who make the laws. In no state, therefore, are any but qualified electors eligible to the office of senator or representative. In some states, greater age and longer residence are required; and in some, the age and term of residence have been still further increased in the case of senators. The property qualification formerly necessary for members of the legislature, as well as for voters, has been almost entirely abolished. (Chap. VI. §8.)

§11. If a member of the legislature dies, or resigns his office before the expiration of the term for which he was chosen, the vacancy is filled by the election of another person at the next general election, or at a special election called for that purpose, or in such other manner as the constitution may provide. But a person chosen to fill a vacancy, holds the office only for the remainder of the term of him whose place he was chosen to supply.


 

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.


 

Chapter XI

Manner of Enacting Laws.

§1. When the two houses are duly organized and ready for business, the governor sends to both houses a written communication called _message_, in which, as the constitution requires, he gives to the legislature information of the condition of the affairs of the state, and recommends such measures as he judges necessary and expedient. The message is read to each house by its clerk.

§2. But the measures to which the governor calls the attention of the legislature, are but a small portion of those which are considered and acted upon. Many are introduced by individual members. Others are brought into notice by the petitions of the people in different parts of the state. _Petition_ generally signifies a request or prayer. As here used, it means a written request to the legislature for some favor--generally for a law granting some benefit or relief to the petitioners. Petitions are sent to members, usually to those who represent the counties or districts in which the petitioners live, and are by these members presented to the house.

§3. Now it is evident, that a proper consideration of the numerous subjects pressed upon the attention of the legislature--some of them of very great importance--must require much labor. If the necessary investigation of so many subjects should occupy the time of the whole house, there would not be time enough to act upon one-half of them. Therefore, in order to dispatch business, the labor of the house must be divided, that the investigation of all the different subjects may be going on at the same time.

§4. Hence arises the practice which prevails in all legislative bodies, of the appointment of committees. As soon as may be, after a house is organized, committees are appointed on all subjects usually acted on in the legislature. A legislative committee is generally composed of three, five, or seven members, who examine the subjects referred to them, and report the result of their examination to the house. Committees are appointed by the presiding officer of each house. Occasionally, though very rarely, they are elected by the house itself.

§5. Some or all of the following committees are appointed in every legislature: a committee on finance, or the funds, income, and other money matters of the state, sometimes called the committee of ways and means; a committee on agriculture; a committee on manufactures; committees on the incorporation of cities and villages; on banks and insurance companies; on railroads; on canals; on education; on elections; on public printing, besides many others. So numerous are these subjects, that in constituting the committees, every member may be put on some committee.

§6. All matters relating to these subjects of a general nature, which arise during the session, are referred to their appropriate committees. Thus, a question or proposition relating to banks, is referred to the committee on banks; matters relating to rail-roads, are referred to the committee on rail-roads; those relating to schools, are referred to the committee on education, &c. As these committees continue during the session, they are called _standing_ committees. When a question arises having no relation to any subject on which there is a standing committee, it is usually referred to a _special_ or _select_ committee appointed to consider this particular matter.

§7. Committees meet in private rooms, during hours when the house is not in session; and any person wishing to be heard in favor of or against a proposed measure, may appear before the committee having it in charge. Having duly considered the subject, the committee reports to the house the information it has obtained, with the opinion whether the measure ought or ought not to become a law. Measures reported against by committees, seldom receive any further notice from the house.

§8. From what has been said, the utility of committees is readily seen. Although no proposed measure can become a law unless acted on and approved by the two houses, its necessity may be inquired into, and the information necessary to enable the house to act understandingly upon the question, may be obtained, as well by a few members as by the whole house. By the daily examination of so many subjects in committee, a large amount of business is soon prepared for the house to act upon, and much of its time is saved.

§9. If a committee reports favorably upon a subject, it usually brings in a bill with its report. A _bill_ is the form or draft of a law. Not all bills, however, are reported by committees. Any member of the house desiring the passage of a law, may give notice that he will, on some future day, ask leave of the house to introduce a bill for that purpose; and if, at the time specified, the house shall grant leave, he may introduce the bill. But at least one day's previous notice must be given of his intention to ask leave, before it can be granted.

§10. The different steps in the progress of a bill, or the different forms of action through which it has to pass, are numerous. A minute description of them in a work designed chiefly for youth, will scarcely be expected. A thorough knowledge of the proceedings of legislative assemblies, can be practically beneficial, in after life, to but few of those who shall study this elementary treatise. Those who shall hereafter have occasion for this knowledge, will find works adapted to a more mature age, in which the subject is fully treated.

§11. A bill, before it is passed, must be read three times; but it may not be read twice on any one day without unanimous consent, that is, the consent of the whole house; or, as is believed to be the rule in some bodies, the consent of three-fourths, or two-thirds of the house. In some legislatures, the rule allows the first and second readings to be on the same day. A bill is not to be amended until it shall have been twice read. Nor is it usual for it to be opposed until then; but it may be opposed and rejected at the first reading.

§12. After a bill has been twice read, and fully debated and amended, it is proposed to be read on a future day the third time. If the question on ordering the bill to a third reading is not carried, the bill is lost, unless revived by a vote of the house to reconsider. But if the question to read the third time is carried, the bill is accordingly read on a future day, and the question taken on its final passage.

§13. When the final vote is to be taken, the speaker puts the question: "Shall the bill pass?" If a majority of the members present vote in the affirmative, (the speaker also voting,) the bill is passed; if a majority vote in the negative, the bill is lost. Also if the ayes and noes are equal, it is lost, because there is not a majority in its favor. In a senate where a lieutenant-governor presides, not being properly a member, he does not vote, except when the ayes and noes are equal; in which case there is said to be a _tie_; and he determines the question by his vote, which is called the _casting_ vote. In some states, on the final passage of a bill, a bare majority of the members present is not sufficient to pass it, in case any members are absent. The constitutions of those states require the votes of a majority of _all the members elected_ to each house.

§14. When a bill has passed one house it is sent to the other, where it must pass through the same forms of action; that is, it must be referred to a committee; reported by the committee to the house; and be read three times before a vote is taken on its passage. This vote having been taken, the bill is returned to the house from which it was received. If it has been amended, the amendments must be agreed to by the first house, or the second must recede from their amendments, or the amendments must be so modified as to secure the approval of both houses, before the bill can become a law.

§15. Some young reader may inquire why a bill should take so long and slow a course through two different houses; and why one body of representatives is not sufficient. The object is to secure the enactment of good laws. Notwithstanding bills go through the hands of a committee and three different readings in the house; yet through undue haste, wrong information, or from other causes, a house may, and often does, commit serious errors. Legislatures are therefore divided into two branches; and a bill having passed one house is sent to the other where the mistakes of the former may be corrected, or the bill wholly rejected.

§16. But in many of the states, a bill, when passed by both houses, is not yet a law. As the two houses may concur in adopting an unwise measure, an additional safeguard is provided against the enactment of bad laws, by requiring all bills to be sent to the governor for examination and approval. If he approves a bill, he signs it, and it is a law; if he does not sign it, it is not a law. In refusing to sign a bill, he is said to _negative_, or _veto_ the bill. _Veto_, Latin, means, _I forbid_.

§17. But no governor has full power to prevent the passage of a law. If he does not approve a bill, he must return it to the house in which it originated, stating his objections to it; and if it shall be again passed by both houses, it will be a law without the governor's assent But in such cases greater majorities are generally required to pass a law. In some states, a majority of two-thirds of the members present is necessary; in others, a majority of _all the members elected_. In a few states, only the same majorities are required to pass a bill against the veto as in the first instance. Or if the governor does not return a bill within a certain number of days, it becomes a law without his signature, or without being considered a second time. In some states, bills are not sent to the governor, but are laws when passed by both houses and signed by their presiding officers.

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