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General Assembly - RG 600 | Illinois State Archives

Name: General Assembly - RG 600

Historical Note:

The General Assembly serves as the legislative body for the State of Illinois. It is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives, successors to the territorial Legislative Council and House of Representatives, respectively.

Principal activities of the General Assembly include enacting, amending, or repealing laws; passing resolutions; adopting appropriation bills; and conducting inquiries on proposed legislation. The General Assembly also acts on amendments to the U.S. Constitution when they are submitted by Congress and proposes and submits amendments to the Illinois Constitution for the consideration of the voters.

Upon convening the House and Senate choose officers. The House of Representatives chooses the Speaker as its chief presiding officer and the Senate elects a president to serve in the same capacity. Prior to the 1970 Constitution the Lieutenant Governor presided over the Senate, a president pro tempore being elected by the body to serve in his absence. The secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House serve as chief records keepers for their respective bodies. Each house also organizes itself into standing and special committees to consider bills of like subject matter.

The process by which a bill becomes law has changed under each of the four state constitutions. Under the 1818 Constitution a bill that received a majority vote in each chamber of the General Assembly became law if approved by the Council of Revision or if, within ten days, the Council failed to act. If within that ten-day period the Council returned the bill to the chamber in which it originated and the bill failed, upon legislative reconsideration, to receive a majority vote in both houses, the bill did not become law. The 1848 Constitution abolished the Council of Revision by assigning these powers and duties to the Governor.

The 1870 Constitution extended the veto power of the Governor. A bill disapproved by the Governor could not become law unless each chamber of the General Assembly, upon reconsideration, approved the bill by a two-thirds majority. A bill could become law, however, without the Governor's approval if he failed to act on it within ten days from the date received, excluding Sundays.

An 1884 constitutional amendment allowed the Governor to veto individual items within an appropriation bill. A later court ruling affirmed that the Governor could only veto or approve individual items; he could not simply reduce them (Fergus v. Russell, 270 Ill. 304).

The 1970 Constitution further enlarged the Governor's veto power. The Governor can veto an entire bill, a specific appropriation, or can reduce a specific appropriation in any bill passed by the General Assembly. Bills vetoed in full can only become law if, upon legislative reconsideration, the bill receives a three-fifths majority vote in each chamber of the General Assembly. Appropriations reduced by the Governor may be restored, upon legislative reconsideration, by a majority vote of each chamber. The Governor also may return a bill to the General Assembly with specific recommendations for change which the General Assembly must treat as a vetoed bill. If the recommendations are accepted by a majority vote in each chamber the bill must again be presented to the Governor. He may either certify that the bill conforms to his recommendations, in which case the bill becomes law, or he may veto it. The 1970 Constitution allows the Governor sixty calendar days in which to file a vetoed bill with the chamber in which it originated. If the Governor fails to act in this time, the bill becomes law without his signature.

Prior to the passage of the General Corporation Law of 1872, charters were granted to individual corporations primarily by special acts of the General Assembly. A provision in the 1870 Constitution prohibiting specific legislation necessitated a change in procedure. Under the 1872 law, the authority to grant corporation charters was transferred to the Secretary of State. Included were municipal, for-profit, and not-for-profit corporations (L. 1871, p. 295).

Each of the Illinois four constitutions has delegated to the Senate the function of advising and consenting to significant appointments to state positions made by the Governor. This included the appointments of notaries public for 1819-1932. At that time the Secretary of State was assigned the authority to appoint notaries public with no further approval necessary (L. 1819, p. 31, and as amended, L. 1933, p. 719).

The General Assembly is the only body that may impeach and convict executive and judicial officeholders of the State of Illinois. The impeachment procedure outlined in the 1818 Constitution remains unaltered. The House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment. If a majority of the members of the House vote to impeach, the case proceeds to the Senate for trial. Only in impeachment cases does the Senate constitute a judicial body. No officeholder may be convicted and removed from office without a two-thirds guilty vote of all members of the Senate. The Senate may not, however, impose any punishment on an impeached and convicted officeholder other than removal from office.

Access to some of these records is restricted by the Freedom of Information Act (P.A. 83-1013).

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