North Carolina General Assembly
|North Carolina General Assembly|
House of Representatives
|November 4, 2014|
|November 4, 2016|
|North Carolina State Legislative Building, Raleigh|
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 the North Carolina House of Commons until 1868) and the North Carolina Senate. The House has 120 members, while the Senate has 50. There are no term limits for either chamber.
Legislators in both chambers serve two-year terms. Starting with the 2002 election, each legislator represents a single-member House or Senatorial district; prior to 2002, some districts elected multiple legislators.
The General Assembly meets in the state capital of Raleigh (except for special occasions, when legislators might decide to hold a ceremonial session in some other city). It met in the Capitol building until 1963, when the legislature relocated to the new North Carolina State Legislative Building.
North Carolina Senate
The Senate has 50 members. Though its members represent districts that are larger than those of their colleagues in the House, its prerogatives and powers are no greater.
The President of the Senate is the Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina, but the Lt. Governor has very limited powers and only votes to break a tie. Before the office of Lt. Governor was created in 1868, the Senate was presided over by a "Speaker." After the 1988 election of James Carson Gardner, the first Republican Lt. Governor since Reconstruction, Democrats in control of the Senate shifted most of the power held by the Lt. Governor to the senator who is elected President Pro Tempore (or Pro-Tem). The President pro tempore appoints members to standing committees of the Senate, and holds great sway over bills.
The qualifications to be a senator are found in the state Constitution: "Each Senator, at the time of his election, shall be not 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."
According to the state constitution, the Senate is also the "Court for the Trial of Impeachments". The House of Representatives has the power to impeach state officials, after which the Senate holds a trial, as in the federal system. If the Governor or Lt. Governor is the official who has been impeached, the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court presides.
North Carolina House of Representatives
The 120 members of the House are led by a Speaker, who holds powers similar to those of the Senate President pro-tem.
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." Elsewhere, the constitution specifies that no elected official shall be under twenty-one years of age and that no elected officials may deny the existence of God, although this provision is not enforced and may be contrary to the spirit of the "No religious test clause" of the United States Constitution.
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.
According 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]." At that session the Assembly adopted many of the laws of England that remained in effect through most of the 20th Century. Notable in this category is the Statute of Elizabeth or the Statute of Frauds which was not repealed until the General Assembly adopted the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act in July 1997.
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. 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 (1776). With the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the United States finally became its own independent nation with very different legislatures in each part of the colony. Because of the history of distrust of the executive, the constitution firmly established the General Assembly, as it was now called, as the most powerful organ of the state. 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 new General Assembly, which first convened in April 1777, consisted of a Senate, which had one member from each county (regardless of population), and a House of Commons, which had two members representing each county, plus one each from certain towns. Only land-owning (100 acres for the House of Commons, 300 acres (1.2 km2) for the Senate), Protestant men could serve. The constitution for this part of the colony made sure freemen during the time were treated more fairly and given more rights. The 9th Amendment on that 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.” Legislation in 1830, made it illegal to teach a slave how to read or write, making it much harder for people to escape or revolt. Free blacks like Walker also had new laws they had to follow as well. For example, “North Carolina legislation made it illegal for free blacks to vote, attend school or even preach in public.”
In 1835, the constitution was amended to make the Governor elected by the people, but the legislature still elected all other officials. Amendments also set the number of senators at 50 and the number of commoners at 120. Senators would now be elected by districts representing approximately equal numbers of citizens, rather than by counties. Members of the House were still elected by county, but more populous counties were entitled to more representatives.
In 1868, a new constitution changed the name of the House of Commons to the House of Representatives. It also 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 also abolished. Finally, the power to elect executive officers and judges was taken from legislators and given to the people.
Starting in 1966 (in the wake of Reynolds v. Sims), members of the House of Representatives were elected from districts, much as senators already were. This left some counties without a resident member of the legislature for the first time in state history.
In 1868, African Americans were first elected to the General Assembly (fifteen representatives and two senators). But after Democrats consolidated power in the late 1890s, no African Americans were elected until Henry Frye (a Democrat) in 1968.
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.
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.
According to the state-published 2002 North Carolina Manual (no longer available online), "Prior to 1957, the General Assembly convened in January at a time fixed by the Constitution of North Carolina. From 1957 through 1967, sessions convened in February at a time fixed by the Constitution. The 1969 General Assembly was the first to convene on a date fixed by law after elimination of the constitutionally fixed date. The assembly now convenes on the third Wednesday after the second Monday in January after the November election."
- North Carolina General Assembly of 1777
- North Carolina General Assembly of 1778
- North Carolina General Assembly of 1779
- North Carolina General Assembly of 2001–2002
- North Carolina General Assembly of 2003–2004
- North Carolina General Assembly of 2005–2006
- North Carolina General Assembly of 2007–2008
- North Carolina General Assembly of 2009–2010
- North Carolina General Assembly of 2011–2012
- North Carolina General Assembly of 2013–2014
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.
- North Carolina General Assembly election, 2002
- North Carolina General Assembly election, 2004
- North Carolina Senate election, 2008
- North Carolina Senate elections, 2014
Until 1982, a legislator's term in office was said to begin immediately upon his or her election. Since then terms begin on January 1 after a legislator's election.
- "Structure of the North Carolina General Assembly". Official North Carolina General Assembly Website. Retrieved 2006-07-23.
- "State Capitol of NC". NC Department of Cultural Resources. Retrieved 2006-08-04.
- "Marker: A-13". Ncmarkers.com. Retrieved 2012-05-18.
- (Iredell 1791)
- (Iredell 1791, p. 9). All marginal referenced to year of enactment of various chapters reference 1715, therefor the obvious error in the year maybe presumed to be the year of adjournment rather than the year the session convened.
- (Iredell 1791, Chapter 38)
- S.L. 1997-291. Ncleg.net (1997-10-01). Retrieved on 2013-08-09.
- "Women In The North Carolina General Assembly 1921-2007" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-10-21.
- Iredell, James (1791), Laws of the State of North Carolina
- Official website
- Official site of the North Carolina Senate
- Official site of the North Carolina House
- North Carolina Constitution Article 2, describing legislative power
- History of Partisan Division in General Assembly since 1971
- Blog by General Assembly's Director of Bill Drafting