Rhode Island General Assembly
The State of Rhode Island General Assembly is the state legislature of Rhode Island. A bicameral body, it is composed of the lower Rhode Island House of Representatives with 75 Representatives, and the upper Rhode Island Senate with 38 Senators. Members are elected in the general election immediately preceding the beginning of the term or in special elections called to fill vacancies.
The General Assembly meets at the Rhode Island State House in Providence.
The Rhode Island General Assembly was one of the thirteen colonial legislatures that participated in the American War of Independence. The General Assembly was the first legislative body during the war to seriously consider independence from Great Britain. On May 4, 1776, two months before the Continental Congress formally adopted the United States Declaration of Independence, Rhode Island became the first colony of what would soon be the future United States to legally separate from the British Empire.
The Federal Debate
Over a decade after the war, the General Assembly pushed aside calls to join the newly-formed federal government, citing its demands that a Bill of Rights should be included in the new federal Constitution. With this done, as well as an ultimatum from the new federal government of the United States that it would begin to impose export taxes on Rhode Island goods if it did not join the Union, the General Assembly relented. On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island became the last of the Thirteen Colonies to sign the U.S. Constitution, becoming the thirteenth U.S. state (and the smallest).
From 1663 until 1842, Rhode Island's governing state constitution was its original colonial charter granted by King Charles II of England, a political anomaly considering that while most states during the War of Independence and afterwards wrote scores of new constitutions with their newly-found independence in mind, Rhode Island instead continued with a document stamped by an English king. Even nearly seventy years after U.S. independence, Rhode Island continued to operate with the 1663 Charter, leaving it after 1818 (when Connecticut, the other holdout, dropped its colonial charter for a contemporary constitution) the only state whose official legal document was passed by a foreign monarch.
While the 1663 Charter was democratic considering its time period, rising national demands for voting suffrage in response to the Industrial Revolution put strains on the colonial document. By the early 1830s, only 40% of the state's white males could vote, one of the lowest voting franchise percentages in the entire United States. For its part, the General Assembly proved to be an obstacle for change, not eager to see its traditional wealthy voting base shrink.
Constitutional reform came to a head in 1841 when supporters of universal suffrage led by Thomas Wilson Dorr, dissatisfied with the conservative General Assembly and the state's conservative governor, Samuel Ward King, held the extralegal People's Convention, calling on Rhode Islanders to debate a new liberal constitution. At the same time, the General Assembly began its own constitution convention dubbed the Freeman's Convention, making some democratic concessions to Dorr supporters, while keeping other aspects of the 1663 Charter intact.
Elections in late 1841 and early 1842 led to both sides claiming to be the legitimate state government, each with their own respective constitutions in hand. In the days following the highly confusing and contentious 1842 gubernatorial and state legislature elections, Governor King declared martial law. Liberal Dorr supporters took up arms to begin the Dorr Rebellion.
The short-lived rebellion proved unsuccessful in overthrowing Governor King and the General Assembly. The Freeman's Constitution eventually was debated upon by the legislature and passed by the electorate. Although not as liberal as the People's document, the 1843 Freeman's Constitution did greatly increase suffrage in Rhode Island. Further revisions in the 1843 document were made by the General Assembly and passed by the electorate in 1986.
The Rhode Island Senate is the upper house of the Rhode Island General Assembly, the state legislature of the U.S. State of Rhode Island. It is composed of 38 Senators, each of whom is elected to a two-year term. Rhode Island is one of the 14 states where its upper house serves at a two-year cycle, rather than the normal four-year term as in the majority of states. There is no limit to the number of terms that a Senator may serve.
Like other upper houses of state and territorial legislatures and the federal U.S. Senate, the Senate can confirm or reject gubernatorial appointments to executive departments, commissions, boards, or justices to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
The President of the Senate presides over the body, appointing members to all of the Senate's committees and joint committees, and may create other committees and subcommittees if desired. Unlike other states, the Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island does not preside over the Senate, and is instead active in other areas such as state commissions on health and businesses. In the Senate President's absence, the President Pro Tempore presides.
The current make-up of the Senate is 33 Democrats, 5 Republicans.
House of Representatives
The Rhode Island House of Representatives is the lower house of the Rhode Island General Assembly, the state legislature of the U.S. State of Rhode Island. It is composed of 75 Representatives from an equal amount of constituencies, each of whom is elected to a two year term. The Rhode Island General Assembly does not have term limits.
The Speaker of the House presides over the House of Representatives. The Speaker is elected by the majority party caucus followed by confirmation of the full House through the passage of a House Resolution. As well as presiding over the body, the Speaker is also the chief leadership position, and controls the flow of legislation. Other House leaders, such as the majority and minority leaders, are elected by their respective party caucuses relative to their party's strength in the chamber.
The current make-up is 60 Democrats, 13 Republicans, 1 Independent and 1 vacancy.