North Carolina General Assembly
House of Representatives
|Founded||November 17, 1775|
|Seats||170 voting members|
Senate political groups
House of Representatives political groups
Last general election
|November 8, 2022|
Next general election
|November 5, 2024|
|North Carolina Legislative Building|
Raleigh, North Carolina, United States
The North Carolina General Assembly is the bicameral legislature of the state government of North Carolina. The legislature consists of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The General Assembly meets in the North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The General Assembly drafts and legislates the state laws of North Carolina, also known as the General Statutes. The General Assembly is a bicameral legislature, consisting of the North Carolina House of Representatives (formerly called the North Carolina House of Commons until 1868) and the North Carolina Senate. Since 1868, the House has had 120 members, while the Senate has had 50 members. There are no term limits for either chamber.
The North Carolina legislature traces its roots to the first assembly for the "County of Albemarle", which was convened in 1665 by Governor William Drummond. Albemarle County was the portion of the British colony of Carolina (under the control of the "Lords Proprietors" before becoming a royal province in 1729) that would eventually become North Carolina.
From approximately 1666 to 1697, the governor, his council, and representatives of various precincts and towns, elected by male freeholders, sat together as a unicameral legislature. By 1697, this evolved into a bicameral body, with the governor and his council as the upper house, and the House of Burgesses as the elected lower house. The House, sometimes known simply as "the Assembly", could only meet when called by the governor, but it was allowed to set its own rules and to elect its own Speaker. The House also controlled the salary of the governor and withheld that salary when the governor displeased a majority of the House. Naturally, conflicts between the governor and the legislature were frequent.
According to one early compilation of the "Laws of North Carolina", the first "General Biennial Assembly" was held "at the House of Capt. Richard Sanderson, at Little-River begun on the 17th day of November, 1715 and continued by several Adjournments, until the 19th Day of January, 1715 [sic]".
Revolution and early statehood
In 1774 and 1775, the people of the colony elected a provincial congress, independent of the royal governor, as the American Revolution began. Most of its members were also members of what would be the last House of Burgesses. There would be five provincial congresses. The fifth Congress approved the first constitution in 1776.
With the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence, the United States became an independent nation with different legislatures in each colony. Because of the history of distrust of the executive, the North Carolina constitution firmly established the General Assembly, as it was now called, as the most powerful branch of the state government. The bicameral legislature, whose members would all be elected by the people, would itself elect all the officers of the executive and judicial branches. As William S. Powell wrote in North Carolina: A History, "The legislative branch henceforth would have the upper hand. The governor would be the creature of the assembly, elected by it and removable by it. ... The governor could not take any important step without the advice and consent of the 'council of state,' and he had no voice in the appointment or removal of [council of state members]."
This constitution was not submitted to a vote of the people. The Congress simply adopted it and elected Richard Caswell, the last president of the Congress, as acting governor until the new legislature was elected and seated. The constitution provided for more rights for freedmen and free men of color. The 9th Amendment on the 1776 constitution states, "That no freeman shall be convicted of any crime, but by the unanimous verdict of a jury of good lawful men, in open court, as heretofore used." Free men of color with sufficient property were allowed to vote.
The first North Carolina General Assembly was convened on April 7, 1777, in New Bern, North Carolina. It consisted of Senate with one member from each county of 38 existing counties and one district (Washington District which later became part of the Southwest Territory and then Tennessee) and a House of Commons with two members representing each of the existing 38 counties, plus one member from each of the large towns/districts (Edenton, Halifax, Hillsborough, New Bern, Salisbury, and Wilmington Districts). Districts continued to be represented in the Senate until 1835. Only land-owning (100 acres (0.4 km2) for the House of Commons and 300 acres (1.2 km2) for the Senate), Protestant men could serve.
The first 18 General Assemblies met in various locations, including New Bern, Hillsboro, Halifax, Smithfield, and Wake Court House, Fayetteville. It was not until 1794 that the General Assembly met in the new state capital, Raleigh where it has met ever since.
Following Nat Turner's slave rebellion of 1831, the state legislature restricted many of the rights the 1776 Constitution provided for black people, making it illegal to teach a slave how to read or write. They also narrowed rights of free people of color, rescinding their franchise and the right to bear arms, and forbidding them from attending school or learning to read and write, as well as forbidding them from preaching in public.
The Constitutional Convention of 1835 retained the 1776 Constitution, but made several amendments to it. Going forward, the governor would be elected by the people, but the legislature elected all other officials, including US Senators. Amendments set the number of senators at 50 and the number of commoners (representatives to the House) at 120. Senators were to be elected from districts representing approximately equal numbers of citizens, rather than by geographic counties. Members of the House were still elected by county, but more populous counties were entitled to more representatives.[clarification needed]
The North Carolina General Assembly met from 1861 to 1865 as part of the Confederate States of America.
In 1868, a new constitution was passed by the Reconstruction era legislature, a biracial body dominated by Republicans. It changed the name of the House of Commons to the House of Representatives. It established the office of lieutenant governor. Previously, the speaker of the Senate was the constitutional successor to the governor in case of death or resignation. Property qualifications for holding office were abolished in order to enlarge opportunity. Finally, the legislature made executive officers and judges subject to popular election rather than appointment by the legislature.
African-American men were first elected to the state legislature in 1868, including Henry Epps, Abraham H. Galloway, and John A. Hyman in the Senate and Parker D. Robbins, Wilson Cary, B. W. Morris, A. W. Stevens, John S. Leary, Isham Sweat, Henry C. Cherry, John H. Williamson, A.A. Crawford, Cuffie Mayo, W. T. J. Hayes, Ivey Hutchings, John S. W. Eagles, George W. Price, Thomas A. Sykes, James H. Harris, William Cawthorn, and Richard Falkner in the House. Despite efforts by Red Shirts and other white Democratic paramilitary groups to disrupt Republican meetings and suppress black voting in order to ensure the Democratic takeover, some African Americans continued to be elected in the 19th century, especially to local offices. But shortly before the turn of the century, the Democrats regained control of the state legislature (after a biracial coalition between Republicans and Populists had briefly held power) and passed laws to create barriers to voter registration through poll taxes, literacy tests and other devices.
Applied subjectively by white administrators, these methods effectively disenfranchised most blacks in the state. Black voters were eliminated by 1904. An estimated 75,000 black male citizens lost the vote. African Americans were closed out of politics in North Carolina for decades, with most not regaining the ability to vote until after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and federal overview and enforcement.
As was the case in other states where rural legislators hung on to power despite changes in state demographics, North Carolina eventually had to redefine its method of electing house members and to reapportion congressional seats, which was supposed to be done after every decennial census. At a time of civil rights legislation to end segregation (Civil Rights Act of 1964) and enforce the constitutional right to vote for African Americans and other ethnic minority groups (Voting Rights Act of 1965), the US Supreme Court made rulings that resulted in corrections to state legislature representation and apportionment in several states.
Starting in 1966 (in the wake of Reynolds v. Sims, a US Supreme Court case establishing the principle of one man, one vote), members of the North Carolina State House were required to be elected from districts defined on the basis of roughly equal population, rather than from geographic counties. The county basis had resulted in a longstanding rural bias in the legislature. The new urban populations, including minorities and immigrants, were historically underrepresented in terms of legislative seats and funding, although the state's demographics and population had become increasingly urbanized. The court's ruling required changes also in other states with similar practices. The changes allowed full representation for the first time from some urban and more densely settled areas. It also meant that counties with low populations lost the chance to elect a resident member to the legislature.
In 2001, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that multi-member legislative districts were unconstitutional.
The General Assembly has 170 elected members, with 120 members of the North Carolina House of Representatives and 50 members of the North Carolina Senate. Each represents a district. Each house has the sole power to judge the election and qualification of its own respective members.
The assembly is styled after the citizen legislature model, with legislating considered a part-time job. Members receive a base salary of $13,951 per year, supplemented by per-diem payments and travel reimbursements.
Structure and process
Each house of the legislature has eight leadership roles. The Senate's leadership is made up of the president of the Senate, president pro tempore, majority leader, majority whip, majority caucus chair, minority leader, minority whip, and minority caucus chair. Per the constitution, the office of president of the Senate is held ex officio by the lieutenant governor. In this capacity they direct the debate on bills and maintain order in that house, but have little influence over its workflow. They cannot cast a vote in the Senate except to break ties. The president pro tempore is elected by the full Senate. They appoint the body's committees. All other leadership positions filled by the decision of party caucuses.
The leadership of House of Representatives is analogous to that in the Senate, except that in place of a president and president pro tempore, the body is led by a speaker and speaker pro tempore. The speaker is in charge of appointing the body's committees. Both officers are elected by the full house from among its members, with the rest determined by party caucuses. In the event of an even political divide in the House, co-speakers may be elected in lieu of a single speaker.
Standing committees in each house consider introduced legislation, holding hearings, and offer amendments. All bills are examined by a body's respective rules committee before being brought before a full house for a vote.
The General Assembly writes state law or statutes. Legislation in North Carolina can either be in the form of general laws or special/local laws. General laws apply to the entire state, while local laws apply only to specific counties or municipalities. It has the power to levy taxes and adopts the state budget. The constitution enumerates unique procedure for the passing of revenue legislation; all revenue bills must be read three times with each reading occurring on a different day, journal records of votes must include the name of each legislator and how they voted, and all revenue bills must appropriate money for a specific purpose.
The assembly wields oversight authority over the state's administrative bureaucracy. Its Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations has the authority to seize state agency documents and inspect facilities of agencies and contractors with the state. All legislative committees are empowered to subpoena the testimony of witnesses and documents. The constitution allows for the General Assembly to provide for the filling of executive offices not already provided for in the constitution. The body is also empowered to resolve contested elections for state executive officers by joint ballot. Its advice and consent is required for the installation of some state agency heads. The assembly can also influence the bureaucracy through its power to create for dissolve agencies or countermand administrative rules by writing laws and by its decisions in appropriations. The constitution empowers the House of Representatives to impeach elected state officials by simple majority vote. In the event an official is impeached, the Senate holds a trial, and can convict an official by two-thirds majority vote and remove them from office.
The General Assembly has the sole power to propose amendments to the state constitution. If a proposed amendment receives the support of three-fifths of the House and the Senate, it is scheduled for ratification by a statewide referendum. Constitutional amendments, congressional and legislative reapportionment decisions, local bills, and joint resolutions are not subject to gubernatorial veto.
The General Assembly's sessions are convened according to standards prescribed by the state constitution and state statute. The General Assembly meets in regular session—or the "long session"—beginning in January of each odd-numbered year, and adjourns to reconvene the following even-numbered year for what is called the "short session". Though there is no limit on the length of any session, the "long session" typically lasts for 6 months, and the "short session" typically lasts for 6 weeks. The governor may call the General Assembly into extraordinary session after consulting the Council of State and is required to convene the assembly in specific circumstances to review vetoed legislation.
A basic majority of the members of a house constitute a quorum to do business. When in session, both Houses of the legislature typically meet on Monday evenings and in the middle of the day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Legislative committees usually convene in the mornings and late afternoons. Both houses are empowered to temporarily adjourn for three days or less at their own discretion. The proceedings of each house are constitutionally-required to be reported in official journals and published at the end of each session. The records of individual lawmakers are not subject to the state's public records law.
Administration and support agencies
Administrative support of the General Assembly is overseen by the Legislative Services Commission, a panel comprising five members of each house. As of October 2023, the assembly relies on over 600 support staff who work in the Legislative Building and the Legislative Office Building. Every legislator is assigned at least one legislative assistant or clerk, who manage legislators' schedules, manage communications with constituents, and offer advice on policy issues. Some legislators employ additional staff. The General Assembly's members and facilities are guarded by the North Carolina General Assembly Police.
Elections for all seats in both houses are held in each even-numbered year. If a seat should become vacant between elections, there are no by-elections or special elections. Rather, the local leaders of the political party of the person who vacated the seat nominate a replacement, to serve until the next election. The governor ordinarily accepts the nomination and appoints that person. Until 1982, a legislator's term in office began immediately upon his or her election. Since then terms begin on January 1 after a legislator's election.
The qualifications to be a senator are found in the state Constitution: "Each Senator, at the time of his election, shall not be less than 25 years of age, shall be a qualified voter of the State, and shall have resided in the State as a citizen for two years and in the district for which he is chosen for one year immediately preceding his election."
The qualifications to be a member of the House are found in the state constitution: "Each Representative, at the time of his election, shall be a qualified voter of the State, and shall have resided in the district for which he is chosen for one year immediately preceding his election."
- North Carolina State Capitol
- List of North Carolina state legislatures
- North Carolina Council of State
- Prepared Meals Tax in North Carolina
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