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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 called the North Carolina House of Commons until 1868) and the North Carolina Senate. Since 1868, the House has been authorized 120 members, while the Senate has been authorized 50 members. There are no term limits for either chamber.
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, other than (since 2017) the power to advise and consent to the governor’s cabinet nominees.
The president of the Senate is the lieutenant governor of North Carolina, but the lieutenant governor has very limited powers and only votes to break a tie. Before the office of lieutenant governor was created in 1868, the Senate was presided over by a “speaker”. After the 1988 election of James Carson Gardner, the first Republican lieutenant governor since Reconstruction, Democrats in control of the Senate shifted most of the power held by the lieutenant 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 lieutenant governor is the official who has been impeached, the chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court presides.
The 120 members of the House of Representativese 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.
Currently, 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 it has adjourned for the year.
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.
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. 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.