The Alabama Legislature is the legislative branch of the state government of Alabama. It is a bicameral body composed of the Alabama House of Representatives, with 105 members, and the Alabama Senate, with 35 members. Historically, the Alabama Legislature has been dominated by Democrats; however, after the 2010 elections, for the first time in 136 years, both houses came under Republican control.
The Legislature meets in the Alabama State House in Montgomery. The original capitol building located nearby, which is still used by the Governor, has not been used by the Legislature since 1985, when it closed for renovations.
Creation and Civil War
The Alabama Legislature was created in 1818 as a territorial legislature for the Alabama Territory. Following the federal Alabama Enabling Act of 1819 and the successful passage of the first Alabama Constitution in the same year, the Alabama General Assembly became a fully fledged state legislature upon its accession to statehood.
The General Assembly was later one of the 11 state legislatures of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. Following the state's secession from the Union in January 1861, delegates from across the South met at the state capital of Montgomery to create the Confederate government. Between February and May 1861, Montgomery served as the Confederacy's capital, where Alabama state officials let members of the new Southern federal government make use of its offices. The Provisional Confederate Congress met for three months inside the General Assembly's chambers at the Alabama State Capitol, while Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the Confederacy's first and only president on the steps of the capitol.
However, following complaints from Southern bureaucrats over Montgomery's uncomfortable conditions and Virginia's entry into the Confederacy, the Confederate government moved to Richmond in May 1861.
Following the Confederacy's defeat in 1865, the state government underwent a transformation. Upon the state's readmission into the United States in 1868, Radical Republicans, including white Northerners known as "carpetbaggers", "scalawag" Southern Republicans, and "freedmen" African-Americans dominated both the state governorship and General Assembly. For the first time, blacks could vote and were elected to the legislature, a feat that would not be repeated for another one hundred years. The resulting 1868 Constitution reflected the radicals period in the state government.
Yet as in other states during Reconstruction, former Confederate and reactionary "redeemer" forces from the Democratic Party gradually overturned the radicals. By the 1874 state general elections, the General Assembly was once again a body dominated by Bourbon Democrats. Both the resulting 1875 and 1901 Constitutions disfranchised blacks and destroyed Republican influence, leading to the creation and enforcement of Jim Crow laws. It was also in the 1901 Constitution that the General Assembly changed its name to the Alabama Legislature.
Civil Rights era
The Civil Rights Movement began only miles away from the Alabama Legislature's chambers with Rosa Parks' refusal to change seats on a Montgomery bus in December 1955. The subsequent Montgomery Bus Boycott and the rise of both Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr to national and international prominence began a decade and a half of tumultuous political and social changes.
Throughout the late 1950s and into the 1960s, the Alabama Legislature and a series of succeeding segregationist governors massively resisted Civil Rights protesters. During this period, the Legislature created the Alabama State Sovereignty Commission. Mirroring Mississippi's own similarly named authority, the commission acted as a state intelligence agency to spy on Alabama citizens suspected of sympathizing with the Civil Rights movement.
However by the 1970s, with federal legislation enforcing bans on poll taxes, literacy tests and other blatant bureaucratic tools of discrimination, African-Americans entered the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.
Alabama has had a total of six different state constitutions, coming in 1819, 1861, 1865, 1868, 1875, and 1901. The current constitution is the longest written constitution in both the United States and the world.
The Alabama Legislature convenes in regular annual sessions on the first Tuesday in February, except during the first year of the four-year term, when the session begins on the first Tuesday in March. In the last year of a four-year term, the legislative session begins on the second Tuesday in January. The length of the regular session is limited to 30 meeting days within a period of 105 calendar days. Session weeks consist of meetings of the full chamber and committee meetings.
The Governor of Alabama can call, by proclamation, special sessions of the Alabama Legislature and must list the subjects to be considered. Special sessions are limited to 12 legislative days within a 30 calendar day span. In a regular session, bills may be enacted on any subject. In a special session, legislation must be enacted only on those subjects which the governor announces on their proclamation or "call." Anything not in the "call" requires a two-thirds vote of each house to be enacted.
Alabama's lawmaking process differs somewhat from the other 49 states.
Notice and introduction of bills
Prior to the introduction of bills that apply to specific, named localities, the Alabama Constitution requires publication of the proposal in a newspaper in the counties to be affected. The proposal must be published for four consecutive weeks and documentation must be provided to show that the notice was posted. The process is known as "notice and proof."
Article 4, Section 45 of the state constitution mandates that each bill may only pertain to one subject, clearly stated in the bill title, "except general appropriation bills, general revenue bills, and bills adopting a code, digest, or revision of statutes".
As with other legislative bodies throughout the world, the Alabama legislature operates mainly through committees when considering proposed bills. The Constitution of Alabama states that no bill may be enacted into law until it has been referred to, acted upon by, and returned from, a standing committee in each house. Reference to committee immediately follows the first reading of the bill. Bills are referred to committees by the presiding officer.
The state constitution authorizes each house to determine the number of committees, which varies from quadrennial session to session. Each committee is set up to consider bills relating to a particular subject.
The Alabama legislature has a Legislative Council, which is a permanent or continuing interim committee, composed as follows:
- From the Senate, the Lieutenant Governor and President Pro-Tempore, the Chairmen of Finance and Taxation, Rules, Judiciary, and Governmental Affairs, and six Senators elected by the Senate;
- From the House of Representatives, the Speaker and Speaker Pro-Tempore, the Chairmen of Ways and Means, Rules, Judiciary, and Local Government, and six Representatives elected by the House.
- The majority and minority leaders of each house.
The Legislative Council meets at least once quarterly to consider problems for which legislation may be needed, and to make recommendations for the next legislative session.
After a committee completes work on a bill, it reports the bill to the appropriate house during the "reports of committees" in the daily order of business. Reported bills are immediately given a second reading. The houses do not vote on a bill at the time it is reported; however, reported bills are placed on the calendar for the next legislative day. The second reading is made by title only. Local bills concerning environmental issues affecting more than one political subdivision of the state are given a second reading when reported from the local legislation committee and re-referred to a standing committee where they are then considered as a general bill. Bills concerning gambling are also re-referred when reported from the local legislation committee but they continue to be treated as local bills. When reported from the second committee, these bills are referred to the calendar and do not require another second reading.
The regular calendar is a list of bills that have been favorably reported from committee and are ready for consideration by the membership of the entire house.
Bills are listed on the calendar by number, sponsor, and title, in the order in which they are reported from committee. They must be considered for a third reading in that order unless action is taken to consider a bill out of order. Important bills are brought to the top of the calendar by special orders or by suspending the rules. To become effective, the resolution setting special orders must be adopted by a majority vote of the house. These special orders are recommended by the Rules Committee of each house. The Rules Committee is not restricted to making its report during the Call of Committees, and can report at any time. This enables the committee to determine the order of business for the house. This power makes the Rules Committee one of the most influential of the legislative committees.
Any bill which affects state funding by more than $1,000, and which involves expenditure or collection of revenue, must have a fiscal note. Fiscal notes are prepared by the Legislative Fiscal Office and signed by the chairman of the committee reporting the bill. They must contain projected increases or decreases to state revenue in the event that the bill becomes law.
After a bill is placed on the calendar and adopted, this is called the third reading. It is at this third reading of the bill that the whole house gives consideration to its passage. At this time, the bill may be studied in detail, debated, amended, and read at length before final passage.
Once the bill is discussed, each member casts his or her vote as their name is called alphabetically. Since the state's Senate is rather small, voting may be done effectively in that house via manual roll call. The membership of the House is three times larger than that of the Senate, and individual voice votes would require a great deal of time. For this reason, an electronic voting machine is utilized in the House of Representatives. The House members vote by pushing buttons on their desks, and their votes are registered by colored lights which flash on a board in the front of the chamber. The board contains all of their names and shows how each member voted. The votes are electronically recorded in both houses.
If a majority of the members who are present and voting in each house vote against the bill, it has failed passage. If the majority vote in favor of the bill, it is recorded as passed. If amendments are adopted, the bill is sent to the Enrolling and Engrossing Department of that house for engrossment. Engrossment is the process of incorporating amendments into the bill before transmittal to the second house.
Transmission to second house
A bill that is passed in one house is transmitted, along with a formal message, to the other house. Such messages are always in order and are read (in the second house) at any suitable pause in business. After the message is read, the bill receives its first reading, by title only, and is referred to committee. In the second house, a bill must pass successfully through the same steps of procedure as in the first house. If the second house passes the bill without amendment, the bill is sent back to the house of origin and is ready for enrollment, which is the preparation of the bill in its final form for transmittal to the governor. However, the second house may amend the bill and pass it as amended. Since a bill must pass both houses in the same form, the bill with amendment is sent back to the house of origin for consideration of the amendment. If the bill is not reported from committee or is not considered by the full house, the bill is defeated.
The house of origin, upon return of its amended bill, may take any one of several courses of action. It may concur in the amendment by the adoption of a motion to that effect; then the bill, having been passed by both houses in identical form, is ready for enrollment. Another possibility is that the house of origin may adopt a motion to non-concur in the amendment, at which point the bill dies. Finally, the house of origin may refuse to accept the amendment but request that a conference committee be appointed. The other house usually agrees to the request, and the presiding officer of each house appoints members to the conference committee.
A conference committee is empaneled to discusses the points of difference between the two houses' versions of the same bill, and assigned members try to reach an agreement on the content so that the bill can be passed by both houses. If an agreement is reached and if both houses adopt the conference committee's report, the bill is passed. If either house refuses to adopt the report of the conference committee, a motion may be made for further conference. If a conference committee is unable to reach an agreement, it may be discharged, and a new conference committee may be appointed. Highly controversial bills may be referred to several different conference committees. If an agreement is never reached in conference prior to the end of the legislative session, the bill is lost.
When a bill has passed both houses in identical form, it is enrolled. The "enrolled" copy is the official bill, which, after it becomes law, is kept by the Secretary of State for reference in the event of any dispute as to its exact language. Once a bill has been enrolled, it is sent back to the house of origin, where it must be read again (unless this reading is dispensed with by a two-thirds vote), and signed by the presiding officer in the presence of the members. The bill is then sent to the other house where the presiding officer in the presence of all the members of that house also signs it. The bill is then ready for transmittal to the governor.
Presentation to the governor
Once a bill reaches the governor, he or she may sign it, which completes its enactment into law. From this point, the bill becomes an act, and remains the law of the state unless repealed by legislative action, or overturned by a court decision. If the governor does not approve of the bill, he or she may veto it. Vetoed bills return to the house in which they originated, with a message explaining the governor's objections and suggesting amendments that might remove those objections. The bill is then reconsidered, and if a simple majority of the members of both houses agrees to the proposed executive amendments, it is returned to the governor, as he revised it, for his signature.
In contrast to the practice of most states and the federal government, a simple majority of the members of each house can choose to approve a vetoed bill precisely as the Legislature originally passed it, in which case it becomes a law over the governor's veto.
If the governor fails to return a bill to the legislative house in which it originated within six days after it was presented to him or her (including Sundays), it becomes a law without their signature. This return can be prevented by recession of the Legislature. In that case the bill must be returned within two days after the legislature reassembles, or it becomes a law without the governor's signature.
The bills that reach the governor less than five days before the end of the session may be approved within ten days after adjournment. The bills not approved within that time do not become law. This is known as a "pocket veto". This is the most conclusive form of veto, since state lawmakers have no chance to reconsider the vetoed measure.
Alabama is one of the states in which the governor has the power to accept or reject any particular item of an appropriation bill without vetoing the entire bill. In this event, only the vetoed item of the appropriation bill is returned to the house of origin for reconsideration by the Legislature. The remainder of the bill becomes law. The state legislature has the constitutional power to override line item vetos by a simple majority.
Legislation that would change the state constitution takes the form of a constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments are introduced and take the same course as bills and resolutions, except that they must be read at length on three different days in each house, must pass each house by a three-fifths vote of the membership, and does not require the approval of the governor. A constitutional amendment passed by the legislature is deposited directly with the Alabama secretary of state. It is then submitted to voters at an election held not less than three months after the adjournment of the session in which state lawmakers proposed the amendment. The governor announces the election by proclamation, and the proposed amendment and notice of the election must be published in every county for four successive weeks before the election. If a majority of those who vote at the election favor the amendment, it becomes a part of the Alabama Constitution. The result of the election is announced by proclamation of the governor.
- "Alabama Legislature." (September 22, 2013). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed January 30, 2014.