New York State Archives
Current Functions. The primary function of the New York State Legislature is to make laws. Article III of the State constitution vests the legislative power of the State in the senate and assembly. The legislature has nearly total control of the legislative process and is completely responsible for its own proceedings. There are, however, constitutional limits that prohibit the legislature from enacting certain types of laws. It may not pass laws that hinder the right of people to peaceably assemble or petition the government or that curtail freedoms of speech or press. The legislature also may not pass certain types of private or local laws (such as those changing a person's name or moving a county seat), and it may not grant divorces, annul court decisions, or audit claims made against the State.
Article IX of the State constitution requires the legislature to provide for the government of counties, cities, and incorporated villages. The legislature enacts general laws relating to localities, but legislation relating to a single locality generally can be passed only with the authorization of the locality.
The legislature passes resolutions that serve as formal statements of opinion or determination concerning a wide variety of matters. Legislative resolutions do not have the effect of law. Resolutions are used, for instance, to adopt internal rules, adjourn from annual sessions, adopt proposed constitutional amendments, establish legislative commissions, and issue congratulations on accomplishments of others.
The legislature is responsible for reviewing administrative action to ensure that it conforms to legislative intent and authorization. In performing this function, the legislature audits agency programs, investigates fiscal aspects of agency programs, and monitors agency rule-making activities. Various legislative committees also monitor and review the operations of those agencies that fall under the committee's area of responsibility.
Another major function of the legislature is to review the governor's annual budget. This function expanded in the 1970s and 1980s and increased the authority of the legislature in the governmental process. In reviewing the executive budget, the legislature may reduce a specific amount of money requested but may not increase a request. Any additional funding sought by the legislature must be added as a separate line item subject to veto by the governor. The legislature also has an electoral function. The senate and assembly are the sole judges of the elections, returns, and qualifications of their members. While it rarely occurs, either house may refuse to seat any person whom a majority of its members finds unqualified. The legislature is responsible for electing its own officers. The legislature also elects members of the Board of Regents of The University of the State of New York.
Legislators provide a variety of services to their constituents. In particular, they intervene on behalf of their constituents with a State agency or local government to ensure that some need is being addressed.
The legislature has broad powers in ratifying proposed federal constitutional amendments referred to it, proposing State constitutional amendments, and convening constitutional conventions. The senate is responsible (State constitution, Article V, Section 4) for reviewing and approving the governor's appointments of heads of most State agencies, members of boards and commissions, and judges of the court of appeals and court of claims.
The assembly has the authority (State constitution, Article VI, Section 24) to vote articles of impeachment against certain judicial and State officials. Upon an impeachment vote by a majority of the assembly, a court of impeachment is formed consisting of the president of the senate, members of the senate, and judges of the court of appeals. This court can vote to convict and remove these officials from office.
Other specific functions performed by the legislature include channeling federal grants to State agencies and loaning funds to public corporations.
Through standing and select committees and joint legislative commissions, the legislature gathers information from individuals and constituent groups to make more informed decisions concerning appropriate legislation.
Organizational History. The legislature can trace its origins to several representative councils that met during the 1640s and 1650s, the period of Dutch rule in New Netherland. The director general of the colony, assisted by an appointed council, held exclusive executive, legislative, and judicial authority. In 1641, representatives chosen by the people met and called for this authority to be limited. Over the next several years, similar meetings were called to represent popular interests before the colony's director general. In 1664, an Assembly was called by Peter Stuyvesant to consider the current state of affairs in the colony. However, England took control of New York before this assembly was able to develop into a source of authority distinct from the appointed leaders.
Under the English governor Thomas Dongan, a representative assembly was convened in 1683. The first session of this assembly enacted a Charter of Liberties and Privileges, which called for certain basic rights, such as trial by jury and protection of property. The charter was approved by the royal governor but was vetoed in England. In 1686, King James II dissolved the assembly. In 1690, during a period of unrest, Jacob Leisler and his supporters organized an assembly, but this attempt was disallowed a year later.
A 169l law (Chapter 10) finally established a continuing representative colonial assembly, which continued in existence throughout the colonial period until it was dissolved by Governor Tryon in 1776. The importance of this assembly grew as it gradually gained control over the province's taxation and expenditures. During this period, an appointed Governor's Council continued in existence, exercising both legislative and judicial functions.
In the Revolutionary era, the colonial assembly gave way in authority to the Provincial Congress. When the assembly refused to send delegates to the Second Continental Congress in 1775, the Provincial Congress convened and appointed delegates to the Continental Congress. This Provincial Congress also approved the Declaration of Independence on behalf of New York and proclaimed itself to be the Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York. In 1777, this convention approved a State constitution.
This constitution vested supreme legislative power in a two-house legislature. The lower house, the assembly, was roughly modeled on the colonial assembly. It consisted of 70 members representing 14 districts who were to be elected annually by adult males meeting stipulated property requirements. The upper house, the senate, included 24 members representing four districts. The senate had power equal to that of the assembly although property-holding requirements for electors were higher and senators were to have four-year terms of office. The legislature was given broad governmental authority that has continued essentially unchanged to the present day. The powers of the legislature, however, were limited by two councils. The Council of Revision, including the governor, four supreme court justices, the chancellor, and four senators, had the authority to review and approve all bills passed by the legislature. Vetoed bills could be overridden by the legislature. The Council of Appointment, which included the governor and four senators, made appointments to nonelective government positions.
Constitutional revision in 1822 eliminated the councils of revision and appointment. The new constitution gave the governor veto power over legislation, although the veto could be overridden by a two-thirds vote of each house. The chief officers of the State, including the secretary of state, attorney general and comptroller, were to be selected by the legislature. Property-holding qualifications for voting were retained for blacks, but virtual universal suffrage was established for white males. The number of assembly members increased to 128 and the number of senators was set at 32.
A new State constitution of 1846 determined that senators and assembly members were thereafter to represent single-member districts and that the term of office for senators was to be two years. The new constitution reduced the legislature's appointive powers by making the secretary of state, attorney general and comptroller elective offices. The constitution also increased the power of the legislature in other areas, especially in regard to the operations of the State's municipal and county governments.
The 1894 State constitution mandated that there be 150 assembly members and at least 50 senators. The number of assembly members has remained at 150 while the number of senators has increased to 60. The electorate now includes all persons 18 years of age or older who have been residents of the State for three months prior to an election.
Leadership in the legislature is centered in the speaker of the assembly and the senate majority leader who control the organization and most of the important functions of their respective houses. One function of the speaker and majority leader is to appoint the chairpersons of the assembly and senate standing committees. A major part of the work of the legislature is accomplished through these committees. These committees are organized around a subject area or based on a functional responsibility. Subcommittees often exist to divide the work of larger committees. In addition to standing committees, select committees are often appointed to help the legislature on a temporary basis. The legislature also uses joint legislative commissions to support legislative work, particularly by allowing special long-term attention to certain areas of concern to legislators. In the 1970s, these commissions replaced joint legislative committees that previously had done similar work.
Senator (1965-1990 : James H. Donovan)
L0013 New York (State). Legislature. Senate. Senator (1965-1990 : James H. Donovan). Hearing files, 1974-1992. 4 cu.ft.
Other Senate Records
L0214 Records of confirmation of gubernatorial appointments, 1936-1990. 6.75 cu. ft. (including ca. 10,000 cards)