Why Some Faced Five Shilling Fines
This book compares 99 state legislative chambers with the two Congressional chambers. All can trace their origins to colonial assemblies. These chambers have numerous differences, including numbers of members, numbers of residents per district, qualifications to serve, term limits, degrees of professionalism, staffing, pay, rules, organizational structures, etc.
The U.S. House emerged by using colonial assemblies as models in determining its procedures and structure, including creating committees and establishing leadership positions. The colonial assemblies were all changed by becoming part of a new nation as each state created their own Constitutions which reformed their legislatures.
The settlers of 14 Colonial assemblies (East Jersey and West Jersey would later merge into New Jersey) elected colonial assemblies that ranged from initial memberships of 11 in New Hampshire to 42 in Pennsylvania. 12 became bicameral. Pennsylvania started as bicameral in 1682 and become unicameral in 1701. They were established for societal and economic purposes, which colonies having different reasons for creating them. Most states used the British Parliament of the Tudor period as their guidelines in organizing their legislative assemblies. Almost all sought to have legislatures acting separately from the Governor. Most states have Councils that were appointed by and represented the Governor or, in Maryland, the Proprietor. These Councils mostly favored the interests of the King’s government. In some states, the Councils and Assemblies initially met together. Eventually, they all met separately. Thus, the authors note that bicameralism was due to political disagreements between the two bodies. These disputes were not class based, they note. The British government turned to bicameralism due to class as the House Lords membership was passed down from father to son.
The assemblies gained power during the 18th century. Most assemblies had political power equivalent to that of the Governor by 1763. This allowed the public to openly question the policies of their British government leaders.
Colonial representatives were more accessible to their constituents than were members of Parliament. There were 14,367 constituents for every House of Commons member in England compared to 1,200 or fewer constituents for every assembly member in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Rhode Island.
Individuals could petition assemblies. About half of 18th century law passed by assemblies began as petitions.
Virginia’s House of Burgess met for five days in 1619 compared to an average of 157 days from 1728 to 1749.
Most assemblies had standing committees. Pennsylvania and Virginia had subcommittees.
Parliament had a tradition of reading bills three times that continues. After second reading, bills were referred to committees. If a committee reported a bill, it was debated, could be amended, and voted upon. The tactic of amending a bill to change it into a new direction was developed in the 1760s.
People of the elite, economically and socially, served in colonial assemblies. Legislative leaders were often from the top echelons of the elite class.
Most colonial assemblies required members to formally address the Speaker while debating. Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, and Maryland assemblies stated that the name of a member with an opposing view could not be used in debate.
Georgia required assemblymen to be Christians and Pennsylvania required them to follow anti-Catholic laws. Maryland, from 1704 to 1716, prohibited tavern keepers as assemblymen. Ministers were prohibited from being legislators in seven states, a policy that also existed in Parliament. In 1978, a court decision eliminated Tennessee’s law preventing legislators from being ministers.
Of the 39 signers of the U.S. Constitution, 32 had served in state legislatures and 18 had served in colonial assemblies. The creators of Congress were familiar with legislative processes.
Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin favored unicameral legislatures. Franklin compared bicameralism to having horses of opposite ends pulling the same cart in conflicting directions.
Voters elected the earliest state legislators, except in South Carolina and New Hampshire where lower house members elected upper house members and in Maryland where voters elected electors who then elected their state senators.
While most state legislatures developed their initial constructions from states’ experiences with their colonial assemblies, the legislatures in different states experienced different evolutions.
All state legislatures were created in their state Constitutions. Each Constitution, except in North Carolina, allows the legislators to create their own rules and procedures. Yet many state Constitutions have been amended to place specific requirements upon legislatives rules and committee structures. The Colorado Constitution was amended to require every billt o have a committee vote.
Some states gave their legislatures supremacy powers over other branches. Some legislatures chose the Governor and who would be Judges. Rhode Island still allows the legislature to make appointments, which could even be legislators, to over 300 Executive positions. 200 of these appointments were also legislators, as of 1998.
Three states, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine use joint committees from both houses to consider bills. Alaska requires both houses to meet in joint session to vote on veto overrides and also to approve appointments made by the Governor.
The first legislature with term limits was Pennsylvania in 1776.
There were efforts to increase the professionalism of legislatures, with full time legislators with staffs, in the 1980s. Two decades later, there were movements in some states to reverse this trend.
28 states, as of 2004, have the number of days of legislative sessions determined by their state Constitutions.
In 1683, Pennsylvania legislators received three shillings daily pay and faced a five shilling fine per day of willingly not attending.
The first Congressional staffers were hired in 1856 as part time committee staffers. The first personal staffs were hired by the U.S. Senate in 1885. The U.S. House followed with personal staff in 1893.
Some state legislatures had staff members in the 19th century. New York’s legislature had 41 staffers in 1852. The Wisconsin Assembly had 50 staffers in 1887. The Illinois state legislature had 101 staffers in the early 1890s. Most states began hiring more legislative staffers in the early 20th century.
The authors found that wealthier states were more apt to have more professional legislatures. More professional legislatures tended to pass more bills.
The variation in the number of leadership positions rangers from one, the Speaker in Louisiana and Mississippi Houses, to Connecticut were 49 of its 191 members are leaders.
Fund raising patterns for state legislative races vary among states. Some states rely heavily on central party organizations led by legislative leaders to conduct the bulk of fund raising for legislative candidates. In some other states, individual candidates are primarily responsible for their own campaign fund raising.
Legislative committees were common in the 1840s. Mississippi, from 1948 to 1956, had 46 Senate committees for its 49 Senators. The 1950s saw Florida with 38 committees for its 39 Senators, so every Senator was either a committee chairs or its President.
Most state legislatures require conference committees to have equal representatives from both Houses. Congress does not have this requirement.
Approximately 5% of bills introduced into Congress become law. Most states legislatures have higher rates of per cent of bills introduced that are enacted. Most states pass at least 20%of bills that are introduced.
The U.S. House Speaker has full discretion in referring bills to committees. The U.S. Senate President’s committee designation powers can be appealed. State legislatures use an assortment of referral processes. Some use the Majority Leader or a Senate Pro Temo, or another leader, or a committee chair, or a clerk to refer bills to committees. In Maine, referrals are by a chamber vote. Pennsylvania and a few other states prohibit changing a referral decision.
There have been several notable filibusters. One lasted eight days in the 1990 Maryland Senate. Two members had a 36 hour filibuster in the 1957 Texas Senate. A continuous three day filibuster in the 1924 Rhode Island Senate was halted by a stink bomb. Some chambers limit debates to prevent filibusters.
A few states require every bill before a legislative committee to be reported out of committee. Most other states have procedures to discharge from committee a bill that has not been reported. The Pennsylvania House allows 4% of its members to discharge a bill, which gives minority party members potential powers that don’t exist in most other legislatures.
In the early 17th century, there were several examples of members of Congress, including one U.S. Senator, Charles Carroll, who left office in preference of serving in the state legislature. (He resigned in 1792 to serve in the Maryland State Senate). State office lured 48 U.S. Senators from 1790 to 1849 and 8 U.S. Senators from 1850 to 1949.
Farmers composed 62% and lawyers 7% of the Maryland Assembly members in 1635 to 1688. Records are incomplete but farming was a leading occupation of legislators through the end of the 19th century. Lawyers increased as a percent of legislators from then on.
The turnover rate for legislators leaving office saw a most noticeable swing in Pennsylvania when its turnover rate went to 62% in 1696 to 1705 to 18% in 1766 to 1775. Many Pennsylvania legislators served for over 15 single year terms. Legislative turnover rates were relatively higher in most states during the first half of the 19th century. Longer service was found to have tended to produce more involved legislators who created more complex legislative structures.